2011’s The Traitor’s Daughter is the first book of the Veiled Islands Trilogy. Readers may know author Paula Brandon better as Paula Volsky. It’s a nice example of a specific subgenre of secondary world fantasy, a variation on castle opera — or, depending how the coming apocalypse works out, The End of the World. Since I was reviewing for the Science Fiction Book Club at the time this was published, I am surprised that this sponsored review is the first time I have encountered this book.
Of course, this book may also be an example of yet another kind of book: poorly marketed books consigned to undeserving obscurity This may explain why I never saw it when it first came out and why, so far as I can tell, it didn’t sell particularly well.
The Veiled Islands! Once home to a now-vanished civilization! Now home to the usual sort of squabbling city-states and kingdoms, polities who are blissfully unaware that they will very soon be subjected to the same kind of phase change in the laws of magic that brought down their predecessors. That’s probably just as well, since the only thing the humans can do about the situation would involve cooperation and putting the good of the group over the good of the individual. In any case, the looming doom appears only as secondary effects and portentous prognostications in this volume of the trilogy.
Jianna Belandor is the daughter of the title. Despite the notable handicap of living in conquered, occupied Vitrisi, her father Aureste has managed to hold on to wealth and power, which he has done by making himself indispensable to the Taerleezi overlords. This hasn’t earned Aureste much love from his fellow citizens of Vitrisi, nor have the Taerleezi been particularly grateful. However, it has allowed Aureste to prosper while so many others were killed or driven into exile.
Hoping to protect his daughter from the nasty politics and ongoing low-level civil war in Vitrisi, Aureste arranges a marriage for Jianna. While she isn’t entirely happy to be married off to a scion of House Tribari, someone she has never met, arranged marriages are common in her culture . The marriage her father has negotiated for her is by no means the worst thing that could happen to her.
No, the worst thing that does happen to her is that on her way to another city, far from the protection of her father and her fiancé, her party is ambushed, her aunt, servant girl, and bodyguards are brutally murdered, and Jianna is kidnapped and dragged off to a stronghold deep within the wilderness.
Although Aureste has long since forgotten her, the Dowager Magnifica Yvenza Belandor has never forgotten Aureste, nor forgiven him for the way he took the family title away from her late husband. Yvenza has a plan to restore her family to their rightful position, a plan that depends on marrying Jianna to Yvenza’s thuggish son, Onartino.
A plan that has no need for Jianna’s consent or her survival once her first baby is born.
Yvenza and Aureste are well-matched; both are fiercely loyal to their immediate families and willing to use any underhanded technique (murder. kidnapping, torture, planted evidence) to defeat their enemies. Aureste at least hasn’t shaped his child into a monster, as Yvenza has done with her sons. Indeed, the book depends on the reader caring what happens to Jianna; without her, this book might just descend into some sort of throne-based game.
The author also manages to make some of the secondary characters sympathetic. I am pretty desensitized to violence in my fiction  and yet I very nearly put this down when the servant girl Reeni is beaten shapeless before being murdered by a villain making a rhetorical point. Reeni’s not the only person to be casually murdered — horrible, brutal murder seems to be how people in this book say “hello” — but for some reason her death was the one that bothered me.
I will admit that there were moments in the book where I was conscious that the author was arranging the plot so it would last a full three books. Aureste can be uncharacteristically unthorough about killing his enemies when they’re needed for critical events down the road. The ending also seemed a bit abrupt. I enjoyed this work, but my suspicion is that I would have enjoyed it more had I read all three books together.
So why the heck is this the first time that I have encountered this trilogy?
The fact that I never saw this novel then, combined with the difficulty I had finding a copy to review now, plus the reviews I found online, leads me to think the novel was badly marketed when it was released in 2011, and as a consequence, did not sell well. It seems just as competent, just as well-written, as books that did sell well.
So … my guess is that the publisher was trying to reboot Volsky under a new pen name (although I have no idea why; her books seemed to be selling well before this) which meant that they could not capitalize on Volsky’s previous audience. I’ve filed under Volsky in the hope of drawing the attention of her established fan base  Also, there is no hint in the book that this is the first book in a trilogy, so that the abrupt ending comes as an unpleasant surprise to readers who don’t like sneakquels. Finally, the publisher wangled a cover blurb from Jacqueline Carey. While Carey is a good writer and has a large fandom, I see no reason to believe that there is any overlap between the fans who like Carey and the fans who liked, or might like, Brandon/Volsky . It all smacks of publisher incompetence, incompetence for which authors pay. Bah.
I read this as an ebook borrowed from my library; there is a Kindle edition available online. I would recommend this to your attention, with the proviso that you really want to pick up all three books, not just this one.
1: I was once sent a novel where the lead was inexplicably amazed to discover she lived in a society where arranged marriages were the custom.
2: I discovered while watching Battle Royale that I don’t care to see school kids brutally murdered or forced to brutally murder each other. I was amazed to discover that there is still fictional violence that I cannot abide.
3: Not because I only just noticed my system for filing authors does not take into account pen names.
4: This is not intended as a snipe at Carey. I plan on reviewing at least one of her books at some point.