fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Meri by Maya Kaathryn BohnhoffThe Meri  by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

Meredydd is an orphan, and the only female student at the prestigious school Halig-liath. At Halig-liath, young men — and Meredydd — are trained to become Osraed, which are magician-priests something along the lines of Druids. Female magic is feared and distrusted in this world, and when Meredydd is falsely accused of witchcraft, the elders decide to send her on Pilgrimage to meet the Meri, a goddess-like figure who serves as a connection between humans and God. The Meri will be the final judge of whether Meredydd is fit to be an Osraed, and the elders are divided on whether they want her to succeed or fail.

What follows is a quest tale and a spiritual journey in which Meredydd treks toward the Sea to meet the Meri, encountering a series of tests along the way. These are the kinds of tests that aren’t what they appear on the surface; the obvious dilemma in each situation is almost never the part that’s actually the test, and the goal isn’t exactly what Meredydd thinks it is. Interwoven with this is the theme of men’s magic being revered while women’s magic is feared and reviled; it’s hardly a new theme, but it works.

It’s clear from early on that there’s a secret about the nature of the Meri herself, and it’s pretty obvious to the reader exactly what that secret is. In fact, it becomes frustrating that it never even occurs to Meredydd as a possibility, though it’s absolutely vital to the plot that she not realize it. Readers, however, will be trying to shout it through the pages!

The Meri was slightly rough going for me at first, both because of this issue and a few smaller ones. Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff lets her narrative get bogged down in philosophical musings at times, especially at the very beginning. She also occasionally uses a “ye olde” spelling of a common word when it’s not necessary, such as “backstere” for baker, “Cyne” for King, and “cleirach” for cleric. The meaning usually becomes clear shortly thereafter through context, but in the meantime the reader has been momentarily thrown out of the story and is wondering what a “backstere” is, when just using “baker” would have resulted in a smoother read and wouldn’t have detracted any from the medieval feel of the book.

Bohnhoff earned respect from me in the way she wrapped it up at the end, though. She takes Meredydd’s self-doubt, which she had been building up throughout the novel, and rolls it into a compelling “dark night of the soul” as Meredydd finally reaches the Sea and awaits the Meri’s arrival and judgment. Then, when the observant reader’s guess about the Meri’s nature turns out to be true, Bohnhoff doesn’t belabor the revelation with a big infodump. She just briefly confirms it — in a beautiful, touching scene — and then moves on with the story, as if to say, “Yes, I already told you this, if you were paying attention.” And Meredydd faces one final test, one final choice: whether to act in vengeance or in mercy toward someone connected to her parents’ murders.

The Meri is readable but unspectacular overall, and Meredydd is a likable character who deals with a lot of insecurity but is always out to do the right thing. It’s worth a try if you like the “priestess struggles against sexism” type of fantasy novel. Just be prepared for the protagonist to miss the obvious for a long time. The second book in the series is called Taminy and deals with a highly intriguing character mentioned in The Meri, and I think it’s likely that I’ll seek it out, as what we saw of Taminy in this book has my curiosity piqued.

Meri — (1992-1995) Publisher: A Woman Alone in a Man’s World of Magic… She saw her parents murdered… she was rescued by a teacher of the Divine Art and swore to track down the marauders and achieve vengeance. But first she would have to overcome centuries of prejudice against female mages, and become the first ever female apprentice to the Meri, the otherworldly being who stands as the Bridg between humanity and the Spirit of the universe — only then would she be faced with her ultimate choice: vengeance or eternal life.

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  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.