Title: First Truth
Author: Dawn Cook
Publication Date: May 2002
Paperback: 352 Pages
Alissa doesn’t believe in magic. her father’s stories about the Hold, a legendary fortress where human Keepers learn magic from the enigmatic Masters, are just that – stories. But her mother insists that Alissa has inherited her father’s magical ability, and so she must go to the Hold?the only place her talents can be trained.
On her way, she crosses paths with Strell, a wandering musician from the plains. And though Alissa is not sure she can trust a plainsman, Strell has something she needs?one of her father’s old maps. Traveling together, they can reach the Hold before the snow sets in.
But they don’t know that the Hold id nearly empty. Something is very wrong and someone believes that Alissa and Strell knows about a book called First Truth.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Truth series
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I have had Dawn Cook (aka Kim Harrison)’s work on my TBR for YEARS. I’ve read her Decoy Princess and loved it, but gave my copy away and lent out my extra copy of Princess at Sea, and I thought I had given away my copy of First Truth as well. Well, this winter break, I helped my boyfriend move into his new apartment, and wedged behind a bookshelf, what do I find by First Truth! I took this as a portent sign, and decided it was – at long last – time to read the book.
The child of a foothills farmer and a woman from the arid plains, Alissa has always been seen as a mixed breed and shunned by both races as an outsider and mongrel – but she’s managed to ignore the jibes and rude looks, thanks to the care and love of her parents. When she’s a young girl, however, Alissa’s father leaves their farm in the foothills for his last mission and never returns, leaving Alissa and her mother alone. As Alissa grows older and begins to display the same strange tendencies as her father, Alissa’s mother sends her on her way to the Hold – a mysterious tower to the north said to train human mages, or Keepers. Alissa has always thought the Hold was a bedtime story, but she obediently goes on her way to appease her mother despite the impending winter. Armed with a strange smelling sack from her father and her trusty companion kestrel, Talon, Alissa sets off for the Hold and meets a young man from the plains, a bard named Strell, along the way. Together, the two head for the Hold and meet head on with destiny. The Hold is empty, and Alissa is the last known Keeper – and what she discovers is the fate of her father, and her own future.
First Truth is the second novel I’ve read from Kim Harrison writing as Dawn Cook, and as any reader of this blog knows, I’m a big Kim Harrison Urban Fantasy fan. Her earlier traditional fantasy work under the Dawn Cook pseudonym is – I’m happy to report – loads of fun, and I highly enjoyed this first series novel. There isn’t anything groundbreaking about First Truth, as the book is content to use genre tropes and stock characters, but Ms. Cook writes with a snappy, assured and entertaining tone. Alissa is hotheaded, powerful with her new magical abilities, and headstrong in the manner of many fantasy heroines, and is balanced nicely by Strell’s humor and different brand of stubbornness. I loved that both characters begin as distrusting of the other – Strell, in particular, is biased with his plainsman view of the doughy, pallid farmers and thinks Alissa’s intelligence must be severely limited when she refers to herself as a girl of the foothills. Both have suffered their own family tragedies and are forced to relive them in this book, drawing them closer together. Though both characters are fairly stock and the writing tends towards repetition of the same images and emotions, both are endearing and the inevitable romance that develops between the two is sweet and believable.
Easily, my favorite part of First Truth lay with the magical system of traceries and Ms. Cook’s descriptions of magic wielding, as well as the racial/social divide of her universe. The division between the vegetarian foothills farmers with their fair hair and eyes juxtaposed with the keen trader plainspeople with their darker, taller features added another layer of interest to the novel, and I liked how the deep rooted distrust between both cultures would play a larger role in the story (especially in terms of Alissa’s sense of identity and self-worth). The notions of magic, with limited human keepers and their fragile neural networks and sensibility of power, were also fascinating and well described throughout. Though from a plotting perspective, First Truth is rather predictable as a high fantasy/adventure type of story, sometimes a nice easy read is just what you need, and such was the case with this book. I was looking for a quick, breezy escapist fantasy – and First Truth delivered. Not a particularly memorable or mindblowingly awesome book, but it’s definitely a novel that I enjoyed, and I will definitely be checking out the rest of the series.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
“You were up late again last night,” she said into the morning quiet. “I don’t recall hearing you come in.”
Alissa cringed. Ashes, she thought. Her mother hadn’t heard her come in because she had fallen asleep in the garden. Again. “I was out on the rock watching the night,” she admitted, trying to sound as if it meant nothing. “The big one in the squash patch.”
Standing before the sink, her mother sighed, gazing out the window as she continued to clean the pumpkin seeds she had put to soak last night.
“I wasn’t alone,” Alissa protested weakly. “Talon was with me.”
Her mother’s shoulders drooped, but she said nothing. Alissa knew her mother’s opinion wasn’t very high when it came to her one and only pet. That Talon flew at night only made it worse. Kestrels generally didn’t, but no one had told Talon that, and the small oddity was easily overlooked. At least, Alissa thought, she could overlook it.
Alissa’s mouth twisted as she scraped her knife across her toast, rubbing off the burnt parts with a stoic acceptance. It had been toasted only on one side. At least half of it was edible. She glanced up as her mother slumped at the harsh, repetitive sounds. Breakfast was invariably well-done. Alissa had taken over the kitchen in self-defense years ago, but her mother refused to let go of their morning meal.
It didn’t matter how much she scraped at it, Alissa thought. Burnt is burnt. And she pushed the plate with its crusty, black char away with an all too familiar resignation. Slouching on her stool, she stretched until her boots reached the patch of sun that made it into the kitchen. The sound of dripping water slowed. Her mother’s shadow lay long behind her. A frown stole over Alissa as she realized it wasn’t moving. She looked up, straightening in unease. Her mother was still washing the same handful of seeds as when Alissa had come in. Something was up.
“So, what are your plans this morning?” her mother asked, her gaze never shifting as the water dripped unnoticed from her fingers.
“Um,” Alissa grunted, forcing herself to be casual. “I thought the side vegetable patch. The beans are about done. I was going to clear them out, give what’s left to the sheep. Oh! That reminds me,” she blurted, glad to have some bad news that couldn’t possibly be her fault. “I think a dog is about. The sheep have gotten skittish. Even Nanny won’t let me touch her.”
“M-m-m,” was the distant answer, worrying Alissa all the more. Her mother stared out the window, her gaze seeming to go all the way to the unseen plains. The silence grew uneasy. Alissa watched her mother take her eyes from the hills, turning to her hair ribbon draped on its hook next to the sink.
Oh, no! Alissa thought with a tight stab of alarm. Her mother only tied her hair back when she was planning something strenuous like a spring-cleaning, or meeting out punishment. And Alissa hadn’t done anything wrong lately—she thought. Alissa’s eyes widened as the pumpkin seeds fell back into the slop her mother had been rinsing them free of and she absently dried her fingers on her skirt. “Don’t do it,” Alissa breathed, but her mother’s fingers twitched, and reached, and grasped the thin, coppery band of fabric. With a determined abruptness, she gathered her long, dark hair.
Alissa took a shaky breath. She was still all right. If her mother wrapped it about her hair once, she was all right. Once is no problem, twice is lots of work, three, and she was in trouble.
Alissa swallowed hard as her mother wrapped it four times, tying it with a severity Alissa had never seen before. “I should have locked her door,” her mother said to herself as her fingers worked. “I should have shuttered her windows.” Without another word her mother turned, strode into Alissa’s room, and shut the door.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: I abhor the new, reissued covers for the series – what is with the fake princess/goldilocks look for Alissa?!?!? She’s supposed to be blonde, yes, but also dark complexioned and not like a crappy baroque barbie doll.
No. Just…no. Any thoughts?
Rating: 6 – Good
Reading Next: Firespell & Hexbound by Chloe Neill