I really enjoyed Jim Bernheimer's Spirals of Destiny: Rider, which was far more enjoyable than any book about a sixteen-year-old unicorn riding battle-maiden had any right to be. The premise of the books is they follow the adventures of a young woman named Kayleigh, who discovers she has the magical gift to bond with unicorns as well as wield magic far in excess than what a normal woman her age possesses. Living in a high fantasy world where war is between her kingdom and the local desert nomads has just broken out, it falls to her to do her part to prevent their takeover.
Part of what I like about the series is it isn't afraid to go in odd directions. Last book, Kayleigh and her beloved unicorn, Majherri, "broke up" when the latter's former rider, Deanna Lynch, severed their bond before claiming him as her mount. This is a bad thing because said rider is completely insane and corrupted by black magic into a monster. Kayleigh has to adapt to this situation as well as the revelation she's the daughter of the insane Count who is responsible for this war. This fact has the potential to turn all of her allies against her as well as result in her execution by the Not-As-Nice-As-He-Seems High King.
Much of the book is devoted to Kayleigh attempting to step into the grandiose shoes required of her as being a junior Battle Maiden means she's left behind to die in a city doomed to be captured, used as a political pawn against her own father, and is being exploited left and right by her allies. Kayleigh's attempts to make the best of her situation despite this is inspiring, really, as if the fact she's increasingly aware she doesn't have to take the habitual abuse of slime like Captain Lynch or her sister. My favorite moment in the book is when Kayleigh finally calls the abusive rider out on her behavior and while Captain Lynch doesn't back down, it felt positively cathartic. It says a great deal about these books that I cared enough about their relationship to want to see it resolved.
Majherri's situation is nightmarish by comparison as the unicorn is both tempted as well as revolted by the effects being exposed to Nether-Beast (demonic) energy is having upon him. He's now capable of seducing any female of his species, something he's only coming to realize isn't willing and horrifying. Yes, this book deals with Majherri becoming a unicorn version of a sexy vampire. Likewise, he has come to hate his rider as Deanna's insanity has grown to the point it can't be justified simply by corrosive energy. If she's anything like her sister, she was probably rotten to the core anyway.
The politics of the book are surprisingly subtle for what seems, on the surface, to be a conflict between good and evil. Instead, Jim Bernheimer shows the noble kingdom protected by unicorn riders is brutalizing the desert folk and denying them resources while the latter have almost no understanding of the city-dwellers. It's a fairly realistic set of causes for a war and the fact the Battle Maidens are being used as champions for one side over the other rather than anything more noble is a clever subversion. This is a war story wrapped in the glamour of a high fantasy novel and I like that.
I'm not a big fan of the revelation Kayleigh is the daughter of the big villain since this is a plot device I feel is somewhat beneath Jim Bernheimer. Despite this, it's integrated well into both Kayleigh as well as the environment's growth. While I feel the plot device is somewhat hackneyed, it only reduced my enjoyment by the slightest bit. This is a good book and I recommend it to lovers of high fantasy who want a fun, light, but not-too-light adventure.