Sherwood Smith


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

April 11, 2021

nda is one of those books that I learned about while reading a book review for a different novel - it was one of those off hands mentions in a review, where some wrote: "this book compares favorably to Inda in terms of depth of world building and plot." I read that review and thought: Inda? Never heard of it. I look it up, it sounded interesting, and I saw that there were four books in the series: Inda, The Fox, King's Shield, and Treason's Shore, and that I could buy all four books for $3 each plus shipping on eBay. So I bought the series. I opened the box, and holy smokes - these books were written in the era of Fat Fantasy novels. The four books add up to over 2600 pages! I guess I got my money's worth. Inda checks in at 608 pages.

Inda's central character is a prince, Indevan Algara-Vayir, "Inda", the second son of the king of a country called Elgaer. Elgaer is part of a the empire of Marlovans, which stretches broadly across a vast subcontinent. The powerful, war-like Marlovans are a horse-people, they ride over the lands to conquer the neighboring kingdoms. The Marlovans are threatened by the even more powerful Venn, an empire from a distant northern continent that is apparently bent upon subjugating the entire world. The threat of the Venn means that war is coming - the Marlovans call all the princes to their War Academy to train them to become the commanders that will be needed in this upcoming conflagration.

Eleven year old Inda arrives at the War Academy and endures long training sessions. All the sons of the other Jarls are there, and it became confusing to me at times about who was who. Many of the characters have formal names, as well as a nickname, plus they have a title (the prince of so-and-so). I really wished Sherwood Smith had included a dramatis personae so I could keep track. The back of the book does have a glossary of Marlovan terms ("Sierlaef" is Marlovan for the heir to the king), but it doesn't list the large cast of characters. At least, like all good fantasy novels, there is a map at the front of the book - though sometimes the narrative mentions locations that don't appear on the map.

Sherwood Smith is successful at portraying Inda as brilliant, likeable young kid. Inda lacks ambition, but he is perceptive and a thinker, and so naturally devises solutions to the challenges that the War Academy presents to him, and thus Inda is revealed to be a natural leader. Inda reminded me a little of Andrew Wiggins from Ender's Game. However, their are rivalries and jealousies at the War Academy, and Inda is a perceived as a threat to the plans of the sullen, dyslexic heir to the Marlovan throne who hates his younger brother, nicknamed "Sponge", who is quite a scholar. And since Inda would be an asset to "Sponge', then a scheme must be found to remove him from Sponge's retinue.

The second half of the book is better - Inda is older, the scope of the plot is bigger. The Marlovans have invaded their northern neighbors, in a pre-emptive strike to place those lands under their control before the Venn can land their fleet and do the same. Inda is hiding on board a sailing ship, learning a totally different skill set than the tactics of the War Academy. The Marlovans are horse warriors, ships and navies are not their concern.

Inda has some excellent world building. The Marlovan titles are confusing, but they do lend some authenticity to the depicted fantasy world. Magic use is quite limited - there seems to be common place magic for creating clean water and for removing wastes and blood stains - indeed, everyone seems to have the capability to make dead bodies simply disappear. But there are no mages (though they exist somewhere), no powerful magical relics (though it turns out there are exceptions to this), no magical weapons or control of spirits. Hopefully, the magic level stays consistent, it would be a shame if in later volumes, Sherwood Smith resorts to magic to solve plot complications. So far, Inda has relied on his wits and his training and some luck; I hope that continues.

Inda is just the first volume in a larger story, these four novels apparently form one gigantic tale; they are not separate stand-alone episodes featuring one character. I have already started book two, continuing the adventures of Inda on the high seas, while the Marlovans fight on land.

By the way, isn't that a nice cover painting for Inda? One of the nice things of the science fiction/fantasy genres is that the cover art is frequently excellent. This painting was by someone named Matt Stawicki, whom I have never heard of previously, but delivers some nice cover art here.