|The Curse of Gremdon, by Ciara Knight
Crescent Moon Press, December 18, 2011
In a world where marriage is forbidden, sex is only granted to male warriors, and the outer realm is full of murderous creatures, Arianna fights to protect the life of her only living relative, her brother.
Tardon, an elite warrior, is granted anything he desires by the Elders, but finds little joy in the voluptuous women presented to him. Born for the bloodlust found only in battle, complicated emotions emerge when he discovers his equal in the alluring warrior, Arianna.
Charged by the Elders with saving the castle from attack, Tardon and Arianna risk the curse when they traverse the vast outer realm to retrieve serum from the Tree of Life. If successful, the Elders have promised Tardon the right to marry and Arianna the cure for her brother’s death fever. Will their love carry them through or will the discovery of a great deception be their ultimate demise?
“A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.”
Those words were spoken two centuries ago by American founding father, Thomas Jefferson. (Or Benjamin Franklin. Depends on who you ask.) It popped into my head several times as I read The Curse of Gremdon. The first time was when Tardon, a celebrated warrior, was condemned to burn at the stake for a small carnal act. The Elders allow him moments of release, but this wasn’t a designated time and Arianna was never intended to be a “gift.” In fact, the female warriors aren’t permitted sex at all. He claims responsibility for the incident, as he was the one who initiated, but the people believe that she bewitched him. Tardon stares down his fellow warriors as a vicious mob demands that Arianna burn as well, and he tells them, “These are the people we fight for.”
The question implied in his statement is clear: Are these people worthy of the risks they take? The answer is not so clear.
The kingdom depicted in The Curse of Gremdon is a harsh, cold place. Fog covers their skies most days. There are no small animals or abundance of plant life. Sex is forbidden to all but the male warriors, who earn these gifts by performing well in battle. Marriage is an exceedingly rare privilege. There are no children. The people have few choices. They may train to earn status among the warriors that guard the walls. They may provide a function for society, such as keeping shops or healing the sick. They may please deserving warriors. If they cannot, or will not, do one of these things, they starve in the streets of the inner court. Some rot in the dungeon. Others are tossed in fire pits. Every breath of their lives is spied by a council of Elders, who have laid down inflexible laws that are strictly enforced. As most of the citizens were children when their families sought refuge within the walls, they grew up grateful to the mysterious Elders and repay their debt with obedience.
What laws would you break to protect your family? To be with your lover? To save his/her life? What would you sacrifice to cure your sibling’s illness? To protect your heart from breaking? What would you risk to defend your people from a terror that lurks beyond your borders? What if those people didn’t deserve it?
These are just some of the questions that the author asks her leads to answer. Arianna and Tardon are two disciplined warriors who demonstrate a willingness to burn before lying, to die so the other may live. Naturally, the Elders find their devotion to each other threatening. And useful.
At its heart, Gremdon revolves around the illicit romance between Arianna and Tardon, but it’s built on a complex skeleton of illusion, lies, and pent-up lust. Nothing in the story is what it seems, from the very first scene, when Tardon discretely throws a sword fight, letting Arianna (and the Elder who was judging her) believe that she beat him. From then on, there were only two things that I was certain of as I read the book.
One, Arianna so loves Tardon that if he were mortally wounded, she would cut her heart out of her chest and shove it into his if there was a .1% chance the gesture would save his life.
Two, the Elders were bad guys. They may have saved the people of the kingdom, sheltered them in their castle, and kept them alive all those years, but nothing benevolent asks for so much simply because they can. And as the story progresses, the Elders’ price goes up.
The Curse of Gremdon is a tense, frustrating, heart wrenching romance, set in a fully realized world whose barriers against a zombie-apocalypse are weakening. In a world where hopeless people are surviving on instinct, Arianna and Tardon are bright, rebellious stars, with the strength and temerity to fight for their freedom, and everyone else’s too…whether or not their service is truly appreciated.
Ciara, please tell me there’s a sequel.