2019’s The River South is the second volume of Marta Randall’s Riders Guild series.
Abandoned by her mother, Kieve Rider, as a baby, Shrug was left to the care of the Rider Guild in Koerstadt. The Guild was a careless guardian and Shrug a challenging ward.
Someone else seems to have a keen interest in Shrug’s future. This unknown party would like Shrug’s future to be short. Shrug escapes the first assassin.
One of the riders, Daenet, remembers Kieve fondly and tries to protect her daughter against further attempts. He takes Shrug with him on a river voyage, which gets the girl out of Koerstadt. Daenet is accompanying Lord Kyst, whom he serves as rider (and who is also his lover).
Whoever ordered Shrug’s death doesn’t give up easily. Hired killers dog Shrug and her companions on their journey. This does not endear her to Lord Kyst, a short-tempered lord with problems of his own. Nor does her habit of ignoring rules and orders she deems inconvenient. She and Daenet are set ashore.
The pair fall in with a charming charlatan and reinvent themselves as entertainers. This should have covered their tracks; this should have been enough to balk Shrug’s pursuers. It is not. The assassination attempts continue.
Kieve never named Shrug’s father. Lady Isbael, who now holds the lordship of Dalmorat, suspects that Shrug has a claim to the lordship through her long-dead (possible) father. Lady Isbael is relentless. Can Shrug find refuge anywhere?
Readers of Mapping Winter may have already met Lady Isbael. She is devious and unprincipled in that book, as she is in this. She makes a fine big bad.
Diana Wynne Jones isn’t the first author who will come to mind when discussing novels by Marta Randall, but it eventually struck me that this is a very Jonesian novel. Jones’ protagonists have absent, ineffective, or evil families; so does poor Shrug.
The narrative (one assassination attempt after another) is interrupted by an extended excursus, in which we find out what happened to Shrug’s mom, Kieve. After a final burst of action, the book ends on something of a cliff-hanger and a hint at a further volume.
I liked the book, but felt it was not as contained and assured as the earlier book in the series. Still, I’ll read that further volume should it appear.