Scriber by Ben S. Dobson. ★★★★
Scriber is a stand alone fantasy novel that I enjoyed from the very beginning. Dennon Lark is a historian living in self imposed exile in a small rural village. He is tangentially aware of the instability going on in the kingdom but does not realize how bad it is until the king’s warrior niece Bryndine Errynson arrives looking for nearby rebels. Dennon may hold the key to finding the secrets behind the rebels, but the only ones who will help him are Bryndine and her company of female soldiers.
I think a large part of why I reacted so favorably to Scriber is that I really liked the central characters. At the beginning of the book, Dennon Lark is grouchy, antisocial, and a bit of a coward. All he wants to do is be left alone to wallow in his past failings. He can’t understand why Bryndine’s women chose to follow her. The culture of the kingdom has strict gender roles that say it’s not women’s place to fight, and Bryndine and her company are ill regarded by the general population. Yet Bryndine is courageous, noble, and physically imposing (she’s over seven feet tall). Eventually, she and Dennon grow to respect each other, and he begins to see why her women are willing to follow her into battle. Also, Bryndine is really really awesome.
While Dennon and Bryndine are given the deepest characterization of the whole cast, I was generally able to remember who the secondary characters were and I became attached to some of them (despite the generally high death toll). Most of the important heroic secondary characters were the women of Bryndine’s company, although Dennon had an elderly mentor who was rather important. It was really wonderful to see so many active female characters in a fantasy novel. The only complaint I’d have here is that I’m not sure about the way Grenna’s character was treated as the rape in the backstory seemed like a quick and cheap way to try and gain sympathy for her.
The worldbuilding wasn’t the best I’d seen, but it was functional. The kingdom had a past and a culture, even though it could have been more fleshed out. I did like the way that the events of the past tied so much to the events of the present – what else would you expect when the main character is a historian?
Speaking of that, I liked Scriber’s themes of history and what’s remembered. The book is framed with experts from memoirs that Dennon Lark wrote after the events of the novel, in which he continually calls for Bryndine and her company to be remembered as the true heroes of the situation. The narrative of history and how it is created and uncovered is very much an ongoing theme of the novel.
I overall really liked Scriber, although some of those character deaths did get me. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fantasy novel that includes active female characters even when the protagonist is male.