"Death, despite what the bards had to say, was not beautiful or dramatic. It was a cold body laying in the grass"
Sora's Quest by T.L.Shreffler chronicles the journey of a noblewoman named Sora who dreams of adventure but has always lacked the ambition and opportunity to pursue her desires. Having been sheltered for the vast majority of her life, Sora knows very little of the world outside of heroic tales such as the epics of Kaelyn the Wanderer. Fate—both a cruel and gentle messenger—intercedes on the eve of Sora’s arranged marriage with the unscrupulous Lord Garret. Moments before the ceremony commences, Sora’s father—a man who she barely knows—is struck down by a shadowy assassin, leaving the wedding procession in utter chaos. Taking advantage of the clamor and commotion, Sora slips away from the panicked masses and begins her plan of escape. All seems to be going fairly well until she runs into the very man who murdered her father. In a blur, Sora is swept away by the dark figure and threatened at knife point. After years of longing, Sora finally gets her shot at adventure. Now the only obstacle remaining is to survive to tell the tale.
This is a great book. It is a great book for many reasons, all of which I will try to cover without chirping on and on about why said reasons make this book so good(you must forgive this bird, as it has been almost a month since she’s read such a good book). Let us start with the characters, chiefly Sora. Sora(a great name for a heroine in Sora’s predicament, as the name means sky and is also the name of a bird. This is pleasantly apt, as Sora’s drive is for freedom) is a surprisingly relatable character. I didn’t know if I’d like her at first as I was worried that she, like so many heroines of this genre, would suffer from insufficient writing. Too many a female leads are made out to be "strong", though in truth they generally possess only one trait that might be deemed as such and are often used as a tool to further romantic subplots. Sora is not one of those characters, though for a while I genuinely feared that she would be. For you see, Shreffler thrusts her lead into a situation that many others would have used to formulate a really odd and non-sensible brooding romance. The noblewoman and her kidnapping assassin—can’t you just smell the hordes of Paranormal YA Romance’s that would take this idea down the Twilight route?
<blatant sarcasm>Because cool, indifferent, and sometimes verbally abusive men are totally attractive</blatant sarcasm>.
But I digress.
The thing I appreciate the most about Sora’s character is the perfect balance between naïve dreamer, spoiled noblewoman, and novice adventurer. Realistically, as Sora has only known the life of a noblewoman and her only familiarity with adventure comes from romanticized myths, life on the road does not come easily to her. Putting aside the fact that she is a captive, Sora has never had to go a morning without breakfast, never had to sleep on the cold hard ground—heck, she probably never had to suffer without a bath for days on end. While Sora does manage these situations, they are not without discomfort. She acts very much like a person in her situation should act which is frazzled yet determined to survive. She is strong in some ways(she is fairly intelligent and possess admirable will power for a girl her age), but she also has moments of weakness. Basically, she’s balanced and written in a sympathetic enough way for readers to identify with her but she’s not over exaggerated with a tragic backstory like many modern heroines. She’s simply human, which is something I admire, as many authors seem to struggle with making realistic characters. Moving on from Sora, we have the ragtag duo of thieves(plus one assassin) that fate has stuck her with. These characters aren’t overly sympathetic. Sora, like readers, has to come to terms with the fact that one of them kills for a living and the other two are involved with theft. As readers, we’re allowed to empathize with these characters but we’re also allowed to disapprove of them. They aren’t forced down our throats as loveable ruffians. We know that they’ve done wrong and will probably continue to do wrong in the future. The romantic aspect of this book is also very ambiguous. In fact, the only possible hint at romantic feelings doesn’t come into play until the very end of the book, and even then neither of the parties involved actually admit to any romantic feelings. They simply admit to feeling something, and readers are left to ponder what that something might be. Even when Sora begins to warm up to her companions we are still privy to her conflicting emotions on the matter. On one hand, she knows that she’s still a captive (though here captive status gradually weakens over the course of the story). She knows that the people that she’s coming to like had a hand in killing her father and are involved in dubious activities. However, she’s still human. She still longs to make a connection to the people around her, even if the company isn’t always preferable. In this way, Shreffler craftily avoids giving her character stockholm syndrome. Sora doesn’t make excuses for her captors, but she also cannot deny that the trials they’ve shared together have forged an unexpected bond of camaraderie. It’s an interesting dynamic, one that could have gone horribly array under a less adept pen.
In a nutshell, this is a great book. I know that I’m being terribly repetitive, but it really is a great read. The only factors that kept this book from being a five had to do with some strange unexplained motivations in the book. For instance, I never really understood why exactly Crash—also known as the assassin—took Sora captive in the first place. He obviously had not qualms about killing so why he just didn’t kill his only witness is very odd. Additionally, it was never explained why he assassinated her father. Was he hired? We know that he’s running from a man whose brother he murdered so why would he stop his flight to do a hit. Was he hired? These facts are never really made clear, though there are a few moments in the story where I was sure they’d be introduced. There’s also a reunion towards the end of the book that just kind of jumps out at you. Granted, there’s an explanation for it, but it still seemed a little too convenient. Then again, sometimes magic allows for some very convenient scenes to happen. Finally, in the closing chapters of the book, there’s a scene where our gruff assassin relaxes a bit(in a really hilarious way). I liked his growth of character, but at the same time he almost felt out of character for a bit of it. I know, I know—how can an author write his or her own creation out of character? There was just a slightly off feel to it, but at the same time I did really like the scene. I think I’m just nitpicking now. It’s a great read. You should read it. Go do so now.