|Illustration by Nadica Boskovska|
Writer Christine Pope ventures into fantasy in All Fall Down, a story of pestilence and ignorance and a woman who fights both. This is fantasy in the vein of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire novels, more of a magic-tinged historical novel than a romp with fairies and elves. The world building is precise and developed with both logic and flair. There are contending kingdoms and the actions of rulers impact the lives of the ruled, sometimes in a benign way but often… not.
These people come off the page, they feel real and rooted with problems and responsibilities and hard, hard choices to make. The political situation that exists in the world Pope has created has an impact on the plot; it's integrated into the narrative on many levels and not just thrown in to create random drama.
Merys, the heroine of the story, is a healer, a woman of science not superstition. Kidnapped by slavers who sell her to a lord whose domain runs on slave labor. Lord Shaine is not a bad man, and it's to Pope's considerable credit that she makes him sympathetic and sexy in a way that makes him more than a standard-issue alpha male.
Merys is enormously appealing as a woman who relies on her wits to better her own situation but who also takes care of those around her. Her intervention in the life of a young stable hand changes his life for the better. Her bond with the daughter of the man who holds her captive is warm and caring, and extends to the young man the girl is destined to marry. Merys has real "people skills" and interacts as easily with the cook as with her master's aristocratic allies.
As always, Pope's prose is a multi-sensory experience, with mouth-watering descriptions of feasts and detailed accounts of courtly dress. At its core, this is a romance novel, with several story strands resonating with romance--from the sweet relationship between the lord's daughter and her beloved to Merys' growing attachment to Lord Shaine despite their difference in philosophy. There's a true maturity to their bonding, which does not come without sacrifice but which is all the sweeter for it.
This book is the first in a series of novels set in "The Latter Kingdoms." I cannot wait to read the next one, which is called Dragon Rose.