Sasha by Joel Shepherd (A Trial of Blood and Steel: Book 1)

8/10 Downright and thoroughly enjoyable.

Every now and again I am surprised by a book that turns out to be entirely genuine and entertaining. Many books come to me with the foreknowledge that they are such, and many more simply fail to live up to hype. So when I picked up Sasha by Joel Shepherd at my Borders the other week, I hoped that the blurb would come through as being at least somewhat decent.

Thankfully, Sasha comes out way ahead of “somewhat decent,” despite a few flaws in sentence flow and grammar.

The story focuses primarily on Sasha, a princess who has spurned the traditional royal upbringing to live with a sword master – her uman – in a rustic town that she loves much more. Horses, sword training, ale and more sword training make up her life, as she studies the svaalverd, a specialized style of sword fighting that is above any other, under the tutelage of the Lenayin hero, Kessligh Cronenverdt.

Without resorting to masses of exposition, Joel Shepherd manages to weave into the story the political intrigues facing a country with a state religion, and a historical religion. There is racial hatred, religious vilification, noble squabbles and a desire for more noble powers. Court intrigues in the royal family, scheming nobles and princes, and a headstrong princess who refuses to recognize her heritage.

And all without ever making you bored with the story.

There have been authors who have totally misunderstood the idea of including political plotlines into their stories. They believe that they can just fit in without any work. These authors usually fail dismally, as their stories continually become bogged down in the mire of real politics.

However Shepherd, and his contemporaries, manages to never lose the reader’s attention. What is more, Shepherd makes us not only love the protagonist, but see that she is flawed. This is another trap that authors can make, writing their character as flawless. This leaves no growth available for the character, and leaves us entirely bored whenever we are encountered with their perspective.

One of the few flaws with this book is the occasional lack of time Shepherd invests in his characters. We are sometimes left with characters that are angry for angers sake or inexcusably grumpy. Including a standoffish character who does not often reveal his feelings is ok, but often it is wise to include the reasoning behind that, rather than just allowing us to blunder along blindly. It builds resentment to a character which is not always necessarily reasonable.

That being said, the few flaws that lightly pepper this book are not enough for me to suggest you do not read it. The whole book had me hardly able to put it down, and my perpetual human need for sleep continually stood in the way of decent reading time. The vague allusions towards what will come in the sequel (currently available) Petrodor has me eager to read more. This is definitely a book you will want to pick up. Not the worlds hardest read, but downright and thoroughly enjoyable.

Review by

Our interview with Joel Shepherd

It's been 6 years since we last spoke - an interview we did back in May of 2012 (found here).What have you been up to since you finished writing A Trial of Blood and Steel?I've written books four, five and six of the [...]

Read interview


Joel Shepherd's A Trial of Blood and Steel series


A Trial of Blood and Steel: Book 1


A Trial of Blood and Steel: Book 2


A Trial of Blood and Steel: Book 3


A Trial of Blood and Steel: Book 4

Sasha reader reviews

from Australia

I had fallen out of reading fantasy for a long while until I found this book. And within a few weeks had finished the series. It captured me from the start and didn't let me go. Sasha and the characters surrounding her are so beautifully written and provide entertaining and thought provoking dialogue between them. Sasha will be one of my favourite books that I will reread every year.

8.9/10 from 2 reviews

Write a reader review

Your rating out of 10

Books you may also enjoy

The Hero of Ages

Brandon Sanderson

Half a King

Joe Abercrombie

Tymon's Flight

Mary Victoria

Hope and Red

Jon Skovron


John Gwynne

The Ember Blade

Chris Wooding

Twelve Kings

Bradley Beaulieu

The Black God's War

Moses Siregar III

Following reviews

The Riddler’s Gift

Greg Hamerton

The Lies of Locke Lamora

Scott Lynch


Douglas Jackson

Small-Minded Giants

Oisin McGann


James Barclay

Tales from the Ten-Tailed Cat

Marc Gascoigne and Christian Dunn

Legacy of the Eldric

David Burrows

The Ice Crown

Sean Beech