Themes: / fantasy / orphan / servant /
The Wretched of Muirwood, the opening novel in the Muirwood Trilogy, is the tale of the orphan Lia — who is part of a pariah caste known only as the “wretched,” a people unloved, unwanted, and destined to a life of servitude. Forbidden to read or write, and forced to slave away in the Abbey kitchen, Lia is all but resigned to her fate. But when an injured squire named Colvin is abandoned at the Abbey kitchen, opportunity arises, and Lia conspires to hide Colvin and change her life forever… Her plan becomes a perilous one when a nefarious sheriff starts a manhunt for Colvin, and the land is torn by a treacherous war between a ruthless king and a rebel army. Ominous and illuminating, Lia sets out on an epic quest for freedom with hopes to unravel the secrets of her concealed past.
Apart from picking a girl to center the story around, this book follows many of the common fantasy tropes including the “young unknown thrust into adventure to discover they are more than they realize.”
The world Mr. Wheeler has created is one where no matter your station (King or Innkeeper) knowing your family line is VERY important. So much so that they distinguish between normal Orphans and Wretcheds (Orphans whose parentage is unknown). Wretched are often abandoned to the various Abbey’s around the world and sheltered until they turn 18, at which point they must make their way in the world. Wretched’s take their last names from their assigned role. Our protagonist, Lia Cook, a young girl of 13, has been assigned to work in the kitchens. In particular, she is assigned to smaller of two kitchens, which serves the head of the Abbey, referred to as the Aldermaston.
Lea wants nothing more in life than to become a learner and to gain the ability to read and write. As a wretched however, this is denied to her. One night, a knight comes pounding on the door seeking help for his young squire, and Lea’s life is changed, forever. The rest of the story pretty much follows in a fairly cookie-cutter fashion. It’s a short book, so there isn’t a lot of world building. We learn things as Lea does.
This is the first book I’ve read by Mr. Wheeler. His writing style doesn’t jump out at me as exceptional, but it is well done. His characters have reasonable depth for such a short book and varying personalities. The magic system feels original to me, based on various statues referred to as “Leerings” by commoners, or Gargoyles by the learned. They are carved for a specific action based on an element (water, fire, etc) and are meant as a focus to use “The Medium”. The ending is a bit predictable, but as this is rather short story, I still found it enjoyable and have already jumped into the second book.
This is the first book I’ve listened to read by Kate Rudd. Ms. Rudd is a good reader, but nothing spectacular. She does voices for some of the Male characters, but seemed to read all the female characters in her own voice. She has a clear and pleasant sounding voice, but I didn’t find her performance to add anything extra to the book as I have with other readers.
Overall, this is a decent fantasy story. Quick and easy reading. Nothing especially great, but has me interested enough to jump right into book 2.
Review by Rob Zak.