Review: Unbound and Free by Becca Lusher

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Published: July 2014 by Smashwords
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Tales of the Aekhartain (Historical Aekhartain #1)
Genres: Historical fantasy
Source: Smashwords
Reading Challenges: Once Upon A Time IX
Available: Amazon ~ Smashwords

Disclaimer: The author is a friend. I have done my best to give an unbiased review.

Demairo’s life is far from easy. Living on an isolated island with a father who hates him and a mother he adores, things are difficult enough without the whispering voices that cry on the wind. Because this is no ordinary island.

Luckily Demairo is no ordinary child, and he has some unusual friends to support him. But a storm is coming, and no amount of crows, seals or shining stars can save him – unless he chooses to be saved.

A choice is only the start of the journey.

Set in Roman Britain (456AD), Unbound and Free is a collection of four stories following Demairo across almost thirty years as he finds out where he truly belongs.

Although the blurb calls Unbound and Free a collection of stories, I found it better to treat them as a single novel. The first of the novellas, Jealousy’s Shadow introduces us to Demairo and his family. It is clear from the beginning that the dynamics between them are uncomfortable at best, so if domestic violence is a trigger for you, it might be best to give this book a miss. Demairo’s father, Dewydd, is an abusive drunk who likes to take out his anger on the young boy.  Demairo’s mother, Lowena, does her best to shield her beloved son, but there is only so much she can do, especially when she has to keep the household running almost single-handedly. She gets some help from her brother-in-law, Elisud, who, while as sweet as his brother is sullen, does nothing to stop the abuse. Of everyone on the island, it is Elisud’s young daughter Ceri who has the most success in defusing Dewydd’s moods, perhaps because she is too young to fully understand the situation.

Of course, the cast list wouldn’t be complete without including the island itself. Rumours on the mainland call it cursed. Only Demairo hears the voices of drowned sailors begging to be released from their torment, but his whole family feels their influence. The gradual corrupting of the characters is nicely handled, particularly in Lowena. Atmosphere is a strength of the novella, arising from the supernatural elements of the island and the tense family dynamics.

I’m not particularly good with history, so I couldn’t say how accurate the details of the story were. I wasn’t convinced the story needed a historical setting and would have worked just as nicely as a low-magic secondary world.

The stories following Jealousy’s Shadow deal pretty directly with the aftermath of the first novella, so I won’t say much about them. The bulk of the second novella, Unbound and Free, had an intensity that matched Jealousy’s Shadow, though in quite a different way. I found the expectations Demairo’s family had of him to be a little uniform for my taste, especially since they didn’t seem to be based on anything concrete.

Unbound and Free is intended to be an entry point for new readers into Lusher’s Aekhartain series and on the whole I think it works as intended, with the exception of a few short scenes that new readers may find cryptic.

Join me on Friday for an interview with Becca.

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