Basha wants to propose to his beloved Jawen, but fears that he cannot support her in life. He tries out for the town militia to get a better opportunity, but the tryouts fall apart with Jawen's former boyfriend Hastin threatening him and his brother Oaka. Romantic couples are mixed up at the Courtship ritual and Basha fears Jawen might accept Hastin's proposal instead. Basha proposes to Jawen, offering her the legendary Tau's Cup, and she accepts. After some debate, Basha is allowed to go on his quest to bring back Tau's Cup for Jawen, accompanied by Oaka and a knight named Sir Nickleby. The circumstances surrounding Basha's birth and a childhood incident are tied into the evil Doomba's search for the tiger of light. An immortal storyteller known as the Old Man has set out to protect Basha from the evil Doomba and his minions. Basha briefly met and liked a mysterious girl named Monika visiting his home town of Coe Baba and his home, The Smiling Stallion Inn.
Basha was born and raised in the town of Coe Baba, but unlike his older brother, Oaka, Basha has never truly felt like he belonged. The truth is that Basha was adopted; his mother arrived in Coe Baba pregnant and under mysterious circumstances, and she died soon after giving birth to him. Now Basha is seventeen and thinks he is ready to participate in the town’s Courtship Ritual and propose to the woman he loves, Jawen, who he has had a tempestuous relationship with off and on throughout his life. Only, he freezes up when his time comes and, instead, finds himself offering to go out and seek out the legendary relic Tau’s Cup!
The Smiling Stallion Inn is the first volume in a new series, Legends of Arria. Courtney Bowen has come up with an intriguing story. The country of Arria, and the world in which it is set, has a rich history, which Bowen elaborates on through stories told by Coe Baba’s mysterious Old Man, snippets remembered from Basha’s history lessons and blurbs at the beginning of chapters. The characters are interesting, if not entirely likeable, and the different layers of story told through different perspectives will keep readers interested. Some of the dialogue was a bit stilted, a bit awkward, but if that’s the worst that can be said about The Smiling Stallion Inn, well, then there’s not much to complain about. With the hints of a prophesy swirling around Basha, Oaka’s apparent magical heritage, the Old Man and his protégée keeping watch over them, and the evil Doomba to be contended with, it is obvious that Bowen has her work cut out for her in continuing this story. But she just might be up to that task; looking forward to the next volume to see where this story goes.
Sponsored Review by Holly Scudero
The first book in a planned high fantasy series.
Bowen (The Sable Valley, 2013) introduces Coe Baba, a small medieval town with a long history of traditions. Basha, the innkeeper's adopted son is in love with Jawen, the daughter of the town's wealthy merchant. Their secret love affair is about to be made public with Coe Baba's annual courtship ritual. However, when Basha asks for Jawen's hand he makes a bold promise to her, offering her the cup of Tau, a possibly mythical object believed to be in a far distant land. The promise and the verdict of the local oracle set the stage for a quest to be undertaken by Basha and others. While the villagers do not entirely believe in the existence of magic and live simple lives, there are some who seem to touched by magic like Basha and his adoptive brother Oaka. There are also legends surrounding good and evil and an evil figure known as Doomba whose presence makes itself known in Coe Baba through those whose bodies he has invaded. The narrative tends to jump around in time so that certain events such as the courtship ritual can be examined from different perspectives. Immediately after seeing things through Basha's eyes, the narrative jumps back in time to give Jawen's take on the event. While the main portion of the narrative covers only a few days, there are several flashbacks to earlier events. Most of the second half of the book is a series of flashbacks providing detailed explanations of events in Basha's young life and the history of his relationship with Jawen. While the book is primarily told in the third person, there are later chapters written in the first person from the perspective of Nisa, a woman who has for many years watched over Basha without his knowledge. An attempt is made to describe a love triangle with Iibala, another girl interested in Basha, but this comes off feeling like it's been lifted from a modern teen drama. Readers are told, "Basha had been only thirteen or fourteen at the time he started dating Iibala, but he had been worried all of the time that he was dating her that she might leave him, jealous of the other young men who had once dated her." (59) Despite this drama the Basha-Jawen love story seems a bit tepid.
This uneventful novel feels like a prelude to the rest of the saga, setting the stage for events that will come later.