Disclaimer: Rati Mehrotra is a friend, and I received an advance review copy of this book from her.
I’ve been looking forward to Markswoman since first hearing about it. Rati is an accomplished short fiction writer (see links to her short stories at https://ratiwrites.com/ ) and I was eager to see what she could do in the long form. Reader, I was not disappointed.
Markswoman takes place in a world I’ve never seen before: a seeming post-apocalyptic Asia which mixes science fiction and fantasy. In the distant aftermath of a Great War, five Orders keep peace over the numerous clans of Asiana--Orders of warriors who are telepathically bonded with their magical knives. Kyra Veer is the last of her clan and a young warrior in training in the sisterhood of the Order of Kali. As the novel opens, she is completing the last task needed before becoming a full-fledged Markswoman of her Order. Kyra’s future should be relatively set after this. But, of course, there is no smooth sailing for our heroine: intrigues and adventure abound as Kyra fights a threat to her Order and long-buried secrets come to light. This is a world of warrior women (there is only one Order made up of men); ancient technological artifacts left behind by mysterious visitors from the stars; lush valleys and harsh deserts, and a multitude of cultures. The most obvious inspiration for the world is South Asia, but there are touches of East Asia as well, and the author’s own original inventions.
Once the action in this novel takes off, it really takes off. I hesitate to say too much about the plot, other than this: Marksowman is one of the most strongly plotted novels I’ve read, with twists and turns coming fast and furious. Yet the twists and reveals never come completely out-of-the-blue; the groundwork is carefully set, and each twist makes sense. There is romance amidst the thrills: part of the narrative is given over to Rustan, a young warrior of the only male Order in Asiana. While Kyra and Rustan’s romance is not surprising, it is handled deftly: there’s real chemistry between the characters, and I believed in their relationship and rooted for them.
It’s easy to root for all the characters here (with exception of the villains, of course). Kyra is stubborn, caring, devoted, and just a bit hot-headed. A calmer-seeming (but guilt-stricken and haunted) Rustan is a good foil. These two central characters are surrounded by friends and colleagues who are likeable, entertaining, and/or endearing. And they’re all embedded in a fascinating, intriguing world.
The worst part of this book? It ends on a cliffhanger that just might leave you screaming. The fate of more than one character is left in the air. I am greatly looking forward to more of Kyra and her friends, and to the mysteries of their world, with the sequel.
TLDR: An exciting, swiftly-paced adventure in a truly original world, with intrigue, romance, mystery, and strong characters to cheer on.