Great covers sometimes only tell part of the story. The cover of Tracy M. Joyce’s “Altaica” is especially misleading because it overplays one character’s presence in the novel, which is more about a group of refugees struggles on a barge while fleeing a war and their arrival into the new land of Altaica, which is facing a war of its own. There are well written characters on both the barge and in Altaica, but the cover seems to imply the novel will be about one character in particular. It is not.
Escaping the warlike Zaragaria, the people of a small village make their way by barge down the river looking for safety. Led by Nicanor, the carpenter, his wife Lucia, and Pio, his flute playing son, his brother Curro and Isaura, a skilled huntress and healer, but an outsider to the rest of the village. Although Isaura will help the villagers, some of the people are jealous of her influence. After every pitfall that befalls the ship, the whispers will start about her. The voyage will be tough and the ship will soon run into problems when the food and water start to run out.
When the barge and its crew are at their weakest, they will be rescued by Umniga, a warrior mage Kenati. Umniga has seen that Isaura and Pio have magic, and she is willing to convince a fisherman to rescue all of the refugees merely to save Isaura and Pio.
At this point, Tracy Joyce, the author, makes the bold decision to shift the focus of the novel from the refugees to the rescuers – Umniga and her apprentice Asha, and the war between the three rulers of the land – instead of continuing the story from the refugee’s perspective. Joyce also elects to carve out Isaura from this part of the story. So after one reads over 30% of the novel, the main female character takes a nap.
Two of the princes in Altaica have joined forces and defeated the third prince, who has kept his kingdom, but lost his way. He has been grieving over the death of his daughter. His son, however, attacks and brutalizes Asha without provocation, when she comes to his kingdom to tell them about the refugees. Its easy to see who the villain will be in this story.
When the three princes eventually sit down to parlay and discuss the fate of the ship borne refugees, its very predictable that there will be strife caused by the evil son of the third prince. Soon there is a war and a lot of action. Some of the refugees end up protected by the good princes. Others end up in the hands of the evil prince.
In the end, it will be up to Umniga and Asha, their goddess and various magical animals to try to wake Isaura from her unnatural nap.
On the upside, Joyce’s fantasy has a good bit of action, some well developed characters, well crafted scenes, medieval war, magic and Isaura, who is shaping up to be a great character. However, its predictable and one of the main characters sleeps through two thirds of the book.
Hopefully, Joyce will focus more on Isaura’s life and her developing magical skill in this new land in the second book in this series.