Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Frozen Prospects" by Dean Murray

Frozen Prospects
(The Guadel Chronicles)
by Dean Murray

Frozen Prospects is the first book in The Guadel Chronicles. Also available: I'rone, Thawed Fortunes, Brittle Bonds, and Shattered Ties.

The invitation to join the secretive Guadel should have been the fulfillment of dreams Va'del didn't even realize he had. When his sponsors are killed in an ambush a short time later, he instead finds his probationary status revoked, and becomes a pawn between various factions inside the Guadel ruling body.
Jain's never known any life but that of a Guadel in training. She'd thought herself reconciled to the idea of a loveless marriage for the good of her people, but meeting Va'del changes everything. Their growing attraction flies against hundreds of years of precedent, but as wide-spread attacks threaten their world, the Guadel have no choice but to use even Jain and Va'del in their fight for survival.

Va'del looked up at the tiny violet time sphere that provided the only light to the room and then hunched further down on his sleeping mat. The thin pad of woven gurra wool provided only minimal cushion between him and the cold stone floor of the sleeping chamber.
The chamber was barely three paces to a side, empty but for his one change of clothes and the dim time sphere that almost chased the shadows back to the far wall. There was barely room to stretch out let alone hide.
Even in the rambling caves where the People made their home, a private chamber was usually a sign of status. In his case it was just evidence that nobody was willing to spend any more time in his company than absolutely required. He listened to the slow drip of water somewhere out in the darkness and wished there was a way to disappear. As much as he might desire otherwise, it was inevitable that Pa'chi would eventually show up and try to drag him to weapons practice.
She claims she doesn't want me to get into trouble, but how do I really know? Maybe she actually wants to see me humiliated. Just like everyone else.
The lanky teenager felt a twinge of guilt at the thought, which was very nearly a betrayal of the closest thing he had to a friend in the village. Even that guilt couldn't keep his thoughts from the imminent beating though.
Muffled footsteps echoed through the cold warren of tunnels, gradually becoming distinctive enough to recognize. Va'del's heart sank a little further as he realized it wasn't Pa'chi who'd come to collect him.
Va'del scrambled to his feet just before Jas'per stepped into the dim violet light. "Come on orphan. Everyone already suspects you're a coward. You wouldn't want to miss weapons practice again and give them proof would you?"
"I practice just as hard as you do, Jas'per."
"And yet you lose every time."
Jas'per pushed Va'del along ahead of him. Any time Va'del slowed too much for Jas'per's taste the older boy shoved him again. Several times it was all Va'del could do to catch himself, shredding his hands on the uneven walls. All too soon Va'del stumbled into the best lit section of the entire village.
Jas'per smiled at the flock of girls watching the boys warming up. They giggled and smiled back. Va'del tried to look for Pa'chi without being obvious, but Jas'per rolled his eyes.
"Your little girlfriend won't be here, darkie. She can handle being around you in the dark, but not even she likes to be reminded how much of a freak you are."
Ignoring the giggles and averted eyes, Va'del crossed over to the storage racks on the wall where the practice equipment was kept. He winced a little as he shed his outermost layer of clothing. Once he actually started weapons practice he'd warm up in quick order, but until then he'd have to deal with more giggles at the way his teeth chattered in the cold.
As Va'del struggled into one of the padded jackets and simple helmets that would shield him from some of the fury of Jas'per's attacks, he tried to shy away from the bubble of resentment over the legacy his lowland mother had left him.
Before Va'del managed to work himself up too much more, Jas'per's father, the village Headman who also served as their weapons instructor, finally arrived. A subtle grimace of distaste flickered across his face and then he began pairing the students off. As usual Jas'per and Va'del were matched against each other despite the fact that Va'del lost six touches out of seven.
Hefting his blunt practice sword with its elongated hilt designed to be usable when the user was wearing heavy mittens, Va'del waited for the command to attack, and then stabbed at Jas'per. The older boy knocked his blade aside and Va'del had to duck away from a riposte aimed at his head.
Feeling his stomach sink at the force of the blow, Va'del tried to convince himself that he'd be okay. A gasp of anticipation raced around the cavern from the watching girls.
Jas'per wasn't quite as tall as Va'del despite being older, but like most of the People, he was more powerfully built. As always, he used that advantage ruthlessly. Each attack landed with a shock that made Va'del's palms tingle despite his efforts to parry so that the force of each swing was simply redirected instead of countered.
Completely on the defensive now, Va'del stepped back enough that a particularly furious attack went whistling past him, and then without conscious thought stepped forward and kicked Jas'per in the stomach before the older boy could recover.
Jas'per would have pressed the advantage ensuring that everyone was able to see his dominance. Va'del knew that would just result in him being hurt more seriously when they next squared off. He started to back away and then gasped in pain as the weighted end of the Headman's training cord snaked out and found the back of his unprotected legs.
"This is weapons training you pagan monster. If you can't attack your opponent with your blade, don't bother attacking at all. Do it again."
There may have been a collective gasp as Jas'per regained control of his breathing and moved forward, but if so Va'del was too scared to notice. Jas'per's fury was a cold thing that always made him more dangerous rather than less. The last time he'd been made to look foolish he'd put Va'del in the healer's care for a week.
Jas'per once again took the offensive, using his superior skill and strength to control the tempo of the fight. His blows had been marginally controlled before, more than a little sloppy actually. Now instead of going wide, they came at Va'del in short, brutal arcs that pressed his ability to defend to its absolute edge.
Even Va'del's slightly longer reach couldn't keep him out of range indefinitely, and finally a blow got through, a blow that wasn't pulled at the last second as it should have been. A dull crunch accompanied the sharp pain shooting up Va'del's left arm. He found himself falling to the ground as his weapon dropped from hands no longer strong enough to hold it.
Va'del woke to welcome darkness in a bed that was softer than his normal mat. The dull yellow light from the glow sphere was partially covered in respect to his preference for darkness.
A ginger attempt to move his arm sent shooting pain down it despite the fact it'd been bound to his side. Va'del tried to pull himself into a sitting position, and nearly fell out of bed as a sudden burst of vertigo and nausea wrenched a moan from him.
"There now youngster, don't be trying to move. Foolish thing for people to do, just shows they're still ill."
Sara, the enclave's healer, bustled in with an energy that belied her wispy gray hair, and uncovered the room's small glow sphere as she looked her patient over. "The arm will hurt for a while, but it should heal just fine. I'm more concerned about the knock you took on the head. The nausea and dizziness will probably last for a couple of days. I've already told your teachers and the kitchens that you'll be staying with me until you're better."
When Va'del didn't say anything the healer sighed in irritation. "Boy, I know exactly what happened, so there's no use remaining silent. That insufferable Jas'per can claim it was an accident all he wants, but you've been in here more than any other three boys from 'training accidents'."
She'll start badgering me about going to the Capital again unless I can distract her.
"I suppose I'm just clumsier than the other boys."
Sara gave Va'del a hard look, but for once didn't argue. "You have a visitor, I'll send her in."
A useless protest died on Va'del's lips as Pa'chi shyly slipped around the divider that screened the sickbed from the rest of the room.
"It was so terrible, you were just lying there unconscious while Jas'per preened as if he'd brought down a snow leopard. Are you okay?"
From behind the divider Sara's voice drifted over. "It was Pa'chi who came and got me. Those motherless ruffians would have just left you there until weapons class was over."
Va'del wanted to stay mad at Pa'chi, at the whole world really, but he knew that wasn't fair.
"Thanks, Pa'chi. Nobody else would have gone and gotten Healer Sara. I hope your dad won't be angry with you."
The smile that lit up Pa'chi's face transformed it from something plain and unremarkable to a thing of beauty, and Va'del found himself smiling in response as he cleared his throat.
"I'm sorry I've been so difficult lately."
"It's okay. I know you've been worried about the crafting decision for a while now."
Va'del's mind tried to twist away from thinking about the nearing deadline for the young men of the village to find a master who would teach them a trade.
"It's not as though worrying will change anything. After being passed up two years in a row I wasn't likely to be chosen this year. Now that I'm injured I probably won't even be allowed to stay and shovel gurra manure down in the mushroom farms."
Pa'chi shook her head, no doubt responding to his darkening mood. Her smile was an obvious effort to cheer him up. "You were too busy to notice, but some of the adults had arrived by the end of your fight. They didn't seem too impressed by Jas'per's beating on you. I think some of the masters may take that into account when they consider who to take on as apprentices."
Va'del found himself once more fighting to not snap at his friend. "I guess I'll just have to hope someone takes pity on me. I obviously can't make it on my own merits."
"It's not like that. People are good. You just have to give them a chance to do the right thing."
"Maybe. I guess we'll just have to wait and see." Va'del wasn't sure how his smile could convince anyone it was genuine, but Pa'chi actually looked like she believed him.

Featured Review
Ever felt unloved? If a child of divorce, did you blame yourself? Ever felt like a social outcast? Then we all can relate to Va'del, our orphaned hero of this book. Dean Murray touched on something in all of us, a desire to be loved and accepted. Although a book of science fiction/fantasy, it is readable, clean without all the gore and foul language, it also has an important message: we are all worth loving.
I highly recommend this book and looking forward to reading the others in this series. Thank you Dean Murray for writing a book that some of us can relate to,

About the Author
Dean started reading seriously in the second grade due to a competition and has spent most of the subsequent three decades lost in other people's worlds. After reading several local libraries more or less dry of sci-fi and fantasy, he started spending more time wandering around worlds of his own creation to avoid the boredom of the 'real' world.
Things worsened, or improved depending on your point of view, when he first started experimenting with writing while finishing up his accounting degree. These days Dean has a wonderful wife and two lovely daughters to keep him rather more grounded, but the idea of bringing others along with him as he meets interesting new people in universes nobody else has ever seen tends to drag him back to his computer on a fairly regular basis.