Protegee (Exiles of Arcadia #2) by James Gawley is an alternative history-fantasy version of the death of the Roman Republic similar in vein to George R.R. Martin’s fantasy revision of the War of the Roses. And where novella one, Legionnaire, set up this amazing world, Protegee introduces a new cast of characters, expands the scope of the narrative, and blends in enough political machinations to make even the most diehard Game of Thrones fan happy.
The story here focuses on Lilith, the daughter of an Arcadian, provincial governor. Despite the ultra conservative nature of her society, Lilith has been raised as her father’s partner and confidante as much as his child, has attended political meetings, met with family clients, advised him in political affairs, and even stewarded his affairs when tasks have taken him away from home. But no one is insulated from politics in Arcadian society, and even as her father’s child, Lilith is not immune from this, finding herself at the center of schemes by the enemies of her family, their allies, and even her stepmother’s powerful friends.
And if the usual corruption and intrigue were not enough for this young noble woman to deal with, an invasion of the Woade is upon them all. For these barbaric giants raid her father’s province with impunity, putting legionaries to death by the thousands and laying waste to whatever they will. A situation that threatens to destroy both the province and Lilith’s family if her father cannot put a stop to it. And so the middle-aged governor dons his battle armor, takes up personal command of the legions, and leaves Lilith in charge of the province during his absence. Her instructions to keep the snarling wolves at bay until he wins a grand triumph and returns.
As soon as her father is gone, however, the once solid landscape of Lilith’s whole existence begins to shift uncontrollable under her already unsteady feet. Friends become foes. Foes turn into friends. Family becomes something to both long for and distrust. And Lilith’s own internal demons begin to torture her.
But her father is depending on her to hold this final bastion of family power, and Lilith must find a way – no matter how distasteful – to rally her province against imminent destruction and keep her family from being yet another name burned on the funeral pyre of Arcadian history!
I have to admit that I was a bit worried about this novella abandoning (for the moment, anyway) the story so deftly set up in Legionnaire, but I shouldn’t have been, for Mr. Gawley actually produced an even better story with Protegee. Where the first novella focused on the army and the barbarians, this second installment placed the focus almost entirely upon the political machinations of the Arcadian nobility, something that added a new element to this intriguing story. Sure, I could complain about not enough lingering questions from book one being answered or that even more questions were created by this second installment of the Exiles series, but why should I: all of these things just makes me even more eager for the next novella.