Heart of a Lion (the first book of Stephen Zimmer's Dark Sun Dawn saga) was a fantasy novel that reminded me of the pulp fantasies of the past, but with a moresophisticated twist. Rayden Valkyrie is a fantasy heroine who can stand tall and proud alongside Red Sonja (Robert E. Howard), Jalav (Sharon Green), Estri (Janet E. Morris), Raven (Richard Kirk), Morgaine (CJ Cherryh), Paks (Elizabeth Moon), and - of course - Xena.
In terms of storytelling, this felt a lot like one of those episodic pulp sword-and-sorcery novels, with Rayden journeying from one adventure to another, picking up (and discarding) sidekicks and partners along the way. It's a violent story, full of both torture and warfare, with some exceptionally well-choreographed battles along the way. There's more than a few touches of monstrous horror to it as well, further reinforcing that pulp feel. While there is some humor to the story, it's well-placed and restrained, and while Rayden has friends and allies, there are no scenes of romance to unnecessarily soften her character.
In terms of mythology and world-building, this is one of those stories that straddles two worlds, pulling equally from real-life history and from Stephen Zimmer's imagination. Despite it's episodic feel, there is a larger story that pulls it all together, with some intricacies of plotting that you only truly appreciate in hindsight. If you're up for a solid sword-and-sorcery novel with a kick-ass protagonist, a lot of imagination, and some quality writing, Heart of a Lion is well worth the read.
Kindle Edition, 234 pages
Published February 2nd 2015 by Seventh Star Press