So you want a book series that is like Game of Thrones with the a large, interesting cast of characters spread over multiple locations. You want a medievalesque setting with political intrigue and drama, but without graphic depictions of violence and death. You want great descriptions of what is happening without the endless discussion of all the food items being eaten during the scene.
If you want all this and more I think I have a book recommendation for you. If you don’t want all this and more, I still have a book recommendation for you. This recommendation is non-spoilery for major plot points but if you are one that wants to know nothing before reading a book, this might not be the post for you as I talk about a theme or two and mention some things about unnamed characters found in narrative.
Meet the first book in a series of four books by the amazing author, Sherwood Smith.
Inda by Sherwood Smith
Published August 1st 2006
Genera: Adult low fantasy with some magical elements
Number of times read: approximately 5 times plus several skims
Inda is named after the main character in this book series. As a second son, Inda is supposed to stay home, as is tradition, to learn to defend his father’s and one day his brother’s lands. However, due to political reasons to be discovered Inda ends up being sent to the Royal academy, a place traditionally meant only for first sons to learn to fight and to lead. What happens at the academy and the friends Inda makes ends up having long term consequences on the kingdom of Marloven Hesea and the surrounding lands.
Inda’s journey continues and expands in the rest of the series all of which have been released: The Fox, King’s Shield and Treason’s Shore.
So what makes this series so great? To start with, it takes place in a large, complex, rich and original world which includes many diverse and different cultures and groups of people. Just take a look at this map which is hand-drawn by the talented Sherwood Smith:
That is one damn good map.
What are some other things I love about this series?
It’s complicated. There are multiple story arcs that are complex, interconnected and interesting. Unlike Game of Thrones were there are a few arcs and characters I did not like or bored me for whatever reason all the arcs and main characters are interesting and have depth. These novels are complex but not in a way that bogs you down with the details. Rather these novels have level of complexity that reveal itself after a re-read or three and after you read some of Sherwood Smith’s other works. Inda has a writing style that is easy to read yet also has a complexity that I don’t see very often in novels.
That’s another thing, this series has many spin-off series and continuations. All that world building has not gone to waste as Sherwood Smith has written many more novels that explore different parts of her world and even made a nifty timeline to show how the various books fit together (note: some of these books are yet to be released). If that is not enough, she has extra snipets to be found on her website and elsewhere (linked on her website) to enjoy! The Inda series does stand on it’s own, but if you enjoy it as much as I do there is a lot more where that came from! To go back to the ‘it’s complicated’ point I made, the more books you read the more connections you can find between the books and the deeper you can go in the complexity.
Pirates. Need I say more? And yet they are ~complex~ pirates and may make you question what you would call a pirate.
This series is amazingly sex positive. Sex is a normal part of the main society that the series focuses on (and other societies that are introduced) and they way this culture deals with sex is very sex positive. Children growing up in this society know sex exists, but in an age-appropriate manner (there is an adorable story about this to be found in the books) and coming ‘of age’ – basically hitting puberty, which is described as being different for every character – is treated as a wonderful thing. To top that off, LGBT characters are plentiful and a normal part of this world, meaning that are not mocked by the narrative and there are many main characters that are gay or lesbian or bisexual or asexual (I can’t off the top of my head think of a transgender character but I could be wrong) and these characters have interesting and complex narratives. There are characters that are demisexual, basically only having sex with those they have a real connection to and characters that have multiple partners and are in healthy relationships with all of them. Now, this is an adult book, yet the sex is not graphic for those that are not ready or prefer not to read about it. The sex is ‘fade to black’ but the narrative of the book does talk about how is having sex with who as it does impact the character’s actions and thus the consequences to the rest of the kingdom. Sex is not the main focus of the book, though, for those trying to inch away because it’s all about the romance. It’s not. It’s about the characters and their relationships, which does include but is not limited to sex.
Fantasy elements exist in this series, but they don’t dominate the story, which is one of my favourite things. I love books that the presence of magic impacts everything happening in the narrative, but I also love stories that have magic but it’s not the be-all-end-all in the story. These books are the latter. The magic is more ‘commonplace’, things like doing dishes or using the toilet. Then there is also the child spell for people that cannot have a child themselves, it makes a child from both of them (neat, huh? Also sex positive!).
This series is more character-driven then plot-driven, yet that does not make it a slow or uninteresting story; indeed there are several plot arcs to be found. But a lot of the focus is on friendships and loyalty that extends through time and the consequences that these can have. There are many, many examples of great friendships to be found throughout this series. Male-male friendships. Male-female friendships. Female-female friendships. And with all the sex everyone has with everyone there is very little jealously for the sake of drama. Sure jealously exists but its not the ‘teenage female being jealous of another female and putting her down’ tire old trope that is typically seen. The characters are interesting, morally complex and everyone has their own character development throughout the series, which considering the vast number of characters is a feat in itself.
I think I’m going to wrap up the list of things I love with one more point. There is an author-confirmed neurodivergent character. Now the autistic character is not stated as having autism in the book, this is a confirmation outside the series. Some people might find this a plus, others might not. I think it’s interesting as I didn’t catch this the many times I read the books, though admit I knew less about neurodiverence at the time. Now I want to go back and re-read the series to see what my thoughts are since I do tend to like being told a character is neurodivergent as its better for diversity, but also coming up with your own interpretations of the text is a marvellous thing. Additionally, there is a character with a stutter and an apparent learning disability. Representation. It matters.
So what are some downsides to these novels? Well I mentioned not all the planned or written novels are out yet. That is a bummer. There are a few stuck in publication limbo at the moment but hopefully will be out soon. Yet, this really is not a negative as there are still more then a dozen books set in this world to read. Another downside is that it can be hard to find some of her books. Fun story time, I got my first credit card specifically so that I could buy her book “A Stranger to Command” from B&N in the states since I couldn’t find it in Canada. Now this has to do with publishers and whatnot, but it’s also a problem with libraries (as not everyone can buy books). A mix of being less well-known and harder to find in bookstores makes is fairly hard to find her books in libraries. The Inda series is one of her more popular (set of) books so it’s easier then others, but still a downside.
Finally, there are more male main characters then female main characters, however as I mentioned, these books are very sex positive and also female positive and the female characters that are present are important and interesting. Also the number of characters with their names, nicknames and titles might intimidate at first, but there are online resources to help with that (check out the Sherwood Smith website) and I personally did not need them when I first made my way through the books.
This flower is Wisteria and has some importance in the series
And though I have spent a long time thinking about and writing this review, I still do not think I have done this series justice. It is just too good, too interesting and complex to put into words how great it is.
Have you read Inda?
Have I managed to convince you to read Inda?
The neurodiverent necklace can be found and bought at Lulus Stampings Etsy shop (found here) which has a wide variety of interesting jewellery that it would be hard to pick from however if there is something you want that you don’t see she also makes custom designs as well! The image was used with permission. Please check her out!