Review: The Moreva of Astoreth by Roxanne Bland

★★★★ The Moreva of Astoreth by Roxanne Bland

Being the granddaughter of a goddess has certain advantages. Those privileges inflate the priestess Tehi’s ego beyond the bounds of propriety. When she fails in her duties thanks to her open disdain for the hakoi, the common laborers, her grandmother sentences her to serve a year in a far northern outpost. She will be the only moreva, and all of her daily interactions will be with hakoi. But that’s hardly the most challenging aspect of her assignment. The town is a border between the land of Tehi’s gods and untamed hakoi who refuse to be governed.

In her new home, Tehi meets a range of new characters who begin to quietly shift her worldview. Her days are spent maintaining the temple, holding ceremonies, monitoring the beacon, and working with the local healer. Of course, Tehi comes with secrets in tow, the most dangerous being the samples of a deadly infection she is trying to cure. A single mistake could kill the entire town, and she does not have her goddesses permission to take her experiments with her into exile.

The Moreva of Astoreth is a science fiction adventure replete with romance, experiments, natural disasters, and a full pantheon of gods. Science and religion mingle, clash, and adapt throughout the story in new and exciting ways. Rather than simply pitting these two concepts against each other, Bland has done a wonderful job of incorporating each into two wildly different societies. It’s a realistic take on the complexities of culture clashes and the machinations of faith-based biases.

The story explores Tehi’s inner world as she goes on her adventure, and through her daily struggles, the bigot quickly develops into a sympathetic character. She’s a fallible narrator, which is clear from the beginning, and the story is worth a second or third read after the final chapters in order to see the world Tehi walks more clearly. Readers will enjoy everything from visions and incense-steeped ceremonies to glass beakers and laboratory experiments. It’s a tantalizing mix that weaves together surprisingly well.

The prose sings; it’s simple, clear, and engaging. The first person perspective also works exceptionally well. Every step of the plot moves the story forward, and there were only one or two grammatical errors in the entire novel. The main issue that detracts from the novel is the quality of the cover.

Otherwise, the novel succeeds because of Bland’s character and world-building. Each character stands out. The world they occupy stretches beyond the page, and readers don’t have to visit each city to feel the amount of world development Bland has put into this story. Importantly, there are relatively few info dumps. We learn about the world as we walk through it, smell it, and taste it through our guide, Tehi.

It takes a great writer to make a reader forget that they are seeing the world through the eyes of a blue-skinned priestess, and Roxanne Bland pulls it off beautifully in this original work of science fiction and fantasy.

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The Moreva of Astoreth