Time of Daughters by Sherwood Smith
In Time of Daughters, Book One (2019), Sherwood Smith returns to the world of Sartorias-Deles, the setting for most of her fantasy novels. This epic tale, broken into two volumes, begins about a century after the INDA quartet of books about the historic Marlovan military commander. The country of Marlovan Iasca (later called Marloven Hess) is particularly noteworthy for the huge influence of the military in its society, amped up with a healthy side of political intriguing — including, on occasion, assassinations — and a social structure where marriage among those in the upper class is primarily for political purposes and strengthening alliances with other powerful families, and romantic love is typically found elsewhere.
Book One of Time of Daughters, spanning a period of about eighteen years, begins in the northern part of the kingdom. A practical-minded mother, wife of a relatively minor freeholder, announces to her two daughters, Danet and Hliss Farendavan, that they have been betrothed to two young men of the Olavayir family, a branch of the royal amily, so it’s a good pair of matches for the Farendavan sisters. Danet, a plain, intelligent young woman with a talent for numbers and accounting, is to marry the second Olavayir jarl’s son, Anred, called Arrow.
After a rocky start, complicated by Arrow’s jealous lover Fini, Danet and Arrow rub along reasonably well. Then an unexpected summons comes, and Arrow and his older brother Jarend, along with their wives and young sons, are sent to the royal city for a lengthy stay. There they meet the self-absorbed and ambitious young heir to the throne, Evred Olavayir, whose regent is his uncle Kendred. They also encounter the commander of the Marlovan army, Mathren, who is Kendred’s brother and another powerful and ambitious man.
About a third of the way into the Time of Daughters I game-changing events unexpectedly occur that have immense ramifications. The upheavals in the royal city and elsewhere were stunning, and at the same time a pleasure to read because they were also so well-plotted, with characters acting in ways that are unexpected and yet true to their personalities. It was particularly fascinating to me to see the gradual reveal of the character and personality of Arrow’s brother Jarend culminate at this key moment in time. Difficult choices are made — some selfish, some not — and the ramifications will echo down through the years.
Time of Daughters includes stellar world-building (some of it familiar if you’ve read previous Sherwood Smith novels set in Marlovan Iasca) and a large cast of characters. Different personalities rotate on and off the stage over the course of the novel, but the key characters are memorable enough that I didn’t experience the confusion that beset me while reading Smith’s other recent novel, A Sword Named Truth. Time of Daughters is also set in a single country and has a more coherent plotline, making it far more accessible than A Sword named Truth, though it’s still a complex and far-reaching tale.
As one particular young character grows and matures, the seeds of future political troubles — which I assume will come to fruition in Book Two — are readily apparent. While I was slightly disappointed that future problems are being so clearly telegraphed here, I think Smith’s focus is on showing the development of his character and motivations, and how he is deeply influenced by certain people around him, despite the best intentions of others.
The title of Time of Daughters and the blurb “In a time of change and danger peace sparks to war and sons become daughters” were initially mystifying. The answer to that enigmatic statement comes later in the book and is rather amusing (though admittedly not to the characters themselves). I’m interested to see if Smith has found a way to integrate this theme into Book Two.
Though it’s set in a later time period and there are only a few scattered references to the INDA characters, Time of Daughters is very similar to the style and scope of the INDA series. I highly recommend Time of Daughters I for epic fantasy fans, especially if you’ve read and enjoyed the INDA quartet. I expect Time of Daughters II will be equally excellent.