Do you like large books? Are you a fan of seafaring, diverse sexual relationships, inter-generational war, and interesting gender dynamics in your fantasy? Tired of waiting for the next A Song of Ice and Fire book? Inda by Sherwood Smith is the series for you.
Consisting of four books, Inda, The Fox, King’s Shield, and Treason’s Shore, Smith’s Inda Series is one the best fantasy series I’ve read. Although it’s technically four books, I find it’s best to treat the series as one giant 2000+ page book. Smith does an amazing job at world building and characterization while holding the plot all together.
One of the main reasons I love this series is how it sets you up for what you think is a typical epic fantasy and the rips that comfort out from under you. Inda first starts out as a typical ‘young noble boy goes to military school and makes some friends and enemies’ story. Set in the Marlovan Kingdom and the world of Sartorias-Deles, Inda is the second son, a Randael or shield arm, who will serve his brother when they come of age and protect Choraed Elgaer, their family land. Only there’s been a change in rules and second sons must now come to the capital for academy military training when they traditionally didn’t. So off goes Inda and his brother Tanrid to the capital where Inda gets into some scraps, befriends the second prince, Evred, and makes a lot of friends.
As the series starts out, you feel that you have a grip on where you expect the plot to go. The crown prince is a bully, the King’s brother resents his position and wishes for more respect and power, the Queen keeps to herself in her rooms, Evred is nobody’s favourite, and the King isn’t able to control his brother or oldest son. Inda starts out with all the trappings of internal political strife and then half-way through the book Smith unexpectedly changes the course of the plot and Inda suddenly finds himself in exile at sea.
Through out the series, Smith is constantly taking what you know about the world and changing it. People die, people get married, kings are overthrown, conquest is attempted. As the books progress, you start to get a much deeper understanding of the world and the various kingdoms inhabiting it. One of the more interesting plot choices is that Marlovan Kingdom is actually not that big of a world empire despite their desire to become one. Instead a lot of the plot revolves around, Inda, Evred and friends trying to protect their land from the Venn, their ancient enemy, and establishing alliances with other small states.
The use of magic is also really interesting. Magic is largely misunderstood and not really well practiced but is primarily utilitarian. There’s spells used to purify water, clean up human waste, dispose of dead bodies and other mundane magic that’s leftover from Sartoran mages decades ago. One of the more interesting uses of magic though is the birth spell, that allows for the birth of a child with both parents physical characteristics. This is widely used by couples of the opposite and same sex for numerous reasons.
Another reason to love this series (as if you need any more) is the amount of kickass women running around and getting shit done. There’s Jeje sa Jeje, a killer pirate and one of Inda’s trusted friends, Handand, Inda’s sister, Todor, Inda’s childhood friend and betrothed, as well as others. Marlovan society has pretty strict gender roles where both men and women fight but men on the battlefield and women as protectors of the cities. And as the series progresses and the characters meet people from different cultures, different gender norms are introduced and things change under the stress of war and survival.
Smith has also created a world with incredibly diverse sexuality. It’s understood that people fall in love and have sexual relationships with the same sex, the opposite sex, or both. Diverse sexuality is built right into the foundations of the world and drives the plot in many ways as people fall in love, have sex with people they shouldn’t, get married for duty and love.
Overall, Smith’s Inda Series is a really good character-driven, epic, political fantasy with lots of intrigue and warfare on land and at sea. By the time I’d finished Treason’s Shore I’d been reading the series for about eight months and it was really hard to let the characters and the world go. However, this is definitely a series to return to and reread over the years.