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In Diana Rivers’ The Smuggler, The Spy and The Spider, the exotic fictional locations of Ishlair, Eezore and Zelindar come alive through the eyes and experiences of the characters. Donya has been commissioned as a spy for the Hadra society. In an effort to keep her people safe, she disguises herself as a Shokarn male to move freely about the foreign city of Eezore collecting information of political and societal stirrings that might affect the matriarchal Hadra society. As the story unfolds, we find that Donya (called Donyal as a male) reveals she has never been comfortable in her own skin and her journey becomes one of more than mere geography—it is a journey of the heart and one of self-discovery.
Suinyari, a Shokarn woman of Eezore, is an enigma among Shokarn women. She refuses to be submissive to any man, even her husband, and she is more than the businesswoman she appears to be with secrets to keep and little of herself to reveal. When Donya and Suinyari become lovers, it complicates their lives in ways they never imagined.
The two women try to live lives that do not call attention to themselves, for their own protection, but politics within the city and the surrounding area are changing for them and for all the women of Eezore. When the ticking of Suinyari’s biological clock pounds at her heart, she takes on a street waif called the Spider, who brings with her more trouble and heartache than Suinyari bargained for. Through this complex life, the two women try to maintain a relationship while mystery and intrigue swirls around them. It seems the more they try to blend in, the more they end up calling too much attention to themselves from the oppressive political regime.
Donya also has complications of another sort. Her life as a spy away from Hadra society is draining her of her Hadra powers, the very soul of who she is, and she must make painful decisions for her future that may mean either the loss of the love of her life or her defining powers. Eezore women live among a very oppressive patriarchal society while trying to hold on to their own personal power, different from that of the Hadra. Even the Spider has a sort of power that she is hesitant to give up for a better life. The stories of these three main characters are skillfully well fleshed out and interwoven with skill and passion. However, the secondary women of this tale have a story all their own that is both fascinating and integral to the larger one. Theirs is also a tale of the subtlety of women’s power in a repressive society.
The city and the countryside of The Smuggler, The Spy and The Spider are richly drawn. The characters quickly get under the reader’s skin. The pace of the story keeps the reader turning page after page until the final heart-stopping events are over and the cadence slows to allow the reader to realize how each of the characters has found fulfillment.
This was my first introduction to Rivers’ Hadra series and, although the story left me with few questions about what had gone before, so adept is the author at weaving a complete tale, it did leave me with a strong desire to go back to the previous books in the series for the pure enjoyment of this writer’s talents. This is spite of the fact that I’m the kind of reader who usually doesn’t want to go back to the beginning of a series once I’ve come in on the middle of one. I’m always afraid I’ll know too much, or I think I’ll be bored—but this tale is told in such a way, I know I won’t be disappointed in starting at the beginning to catch up.
The Smuggler, The Spy and The Spider is a satisfying cautionary tale that will keep the reader’s interest from the first to the last page. Rivers is a master storyteller in the true sense of the word, conjuring up rich images in the mind’s eye and allowing the reader to become lost in the streets and alleys of Eezore and beyond, completely absorbed in the lives of these women as they struggle to find their way to autonomy.
The Smuggler, The Spy and The Spider
By Diana Rivers
Paperback, 9781594932663, 284 pp.