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A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.

The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.

On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.

The Women of the Song.

But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power. And time is running out.

A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.

432 pages, ebook

First published November 17, 2015

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Michelle Hauck

7 books245 followers

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Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,878 reviews22.6k followers
November 25, 2015
3.5 stars. Full review, originally posted on Fantasy Literature.

Grudging, a newly published young adult fantasy and the first in a new series called BIRTH OF SAINTS from Michelle Hauck, is set in a country reminiscent of medieval Spain, where noble warhorses are a soldier’s right arm and religious faith is a significant part of most people’s lives, giving this fantasy an somewhat unusual cultural flavor.

Seventeen year old Ramiro wants nothing more than to be a respected soldier in his pelotón like his older brother Salvador: to fight in hand-to-hand combat with his sword and earn the right to grow a beard, the ultimate sign of manhood in his society. Ramiro’s people avoid the legendary witches who live in the swamps and kill strangers with the magic in their voices. But when barbaric Northern invaders besiege Ramiro’s walled city of Colina Hermosa and threaten to murder all who live there, his father, one of the city councilmen, sends Ramiro, his brother and a few others off on a hazardous mission to seek out the swamp witches and see if they can be persuaded to use their magic to drive off the Northern armies.

Claire lives a lonely life, alone in the swamps with her mother, who is one of the most gifted Women of the Song. Claire can’t figure out why her mother won’t do a better job of training her to use her magic and voice, meet any new friends (even among their own people), visit the local village, or do anything fun at all. But her mother warns her: “The city men would try to kill you. Women of the Song aren’t welcome in the cities. You’ll never go near another human because I love you too much to risk it.”

Naturally, Ramiro and Claire are on a collision course. The overall plot plays out in a fairly predictable way, although there are a few minor surprises, and there was enough intrigue and tension to keep my attention. Ramiro and Claire, the main characters, are both fairly standard characters from young adult fiction, but they are both sympathetic as they deal with their prejudices and the profound griefs and troubles that befall them. There's (of course) a little bit of romantic tension here, but mostly this story is about Ramiro's quest and how his people are trying to save the city from the Northern invaders.

The more interesting characters were actually the secondary ones: Ramiro’s father Julian, a respected city leader desperately trying to save his people and his family; his mother Beatriz, who at first seems a typical fussy, worrying mother who carries around a fluffy lapdog and is inclined to baby her grown sons, but unexpectedly shows some backbone and strength as the story progresses; and the burly priest Father Telo, who plays a minor but significant role in the story. Telo is an honest and thoughtful individual who steps outside of his normal role as priest to help spy on the Northerners and try to negotiate the return of some children taken as hostages:
Telo had searched for fear in his own soul and had found too much… Telo had touched head, heart, liver, and spleen. That was not to say he took the Lord’s intervention for granted. One was not stupid merely because one believed. One still needed to act with common sense and not put the Lord in a position of keeping one out of trouble.
These characters all grow and change during the course of the story. The willingness to sacrifice one’s self for the greater good is a major theme explored in several different plotlines.

Three different cultures clash during the course of Grudging: the Spanish-style society of Colina Hermosa, the isolated, matriarchal culture of the Women of the Song, and the Germanic northern invaders. The best developed by far was the first. The strictures of social rules and roles and the importance of honor and family are realistically conveyed through the characters’ thoughts and actions. The magnificent and intelligent dapple-gray warhorses, who have a lifelong, exclusive bond to their masters, were wonderful, and sometimes heartbreaking, to read about. Some inhabitants of Colina Hermosa have the Sight, but generally magic plays a very minor role in their society. I appreciated the way faith was woven into the fabric of the lives of the people of Colina Hermosa. Some people believe, others do not, but religiously beliefs are treated respectfully without any preachiness.

The matriarchal society of the Women of the Song is intriguing. Claire’s mother tells some brief stories about the traditional gathering of Women of the Song at age sixteen, to hone their magical skills and compete for the title of Thorn among Roses. The Women of Song have the practice of going to the towns for a year or so to learn about society and get pregnant, but otherwise they shun men. (It’s not clear what happens if they have a baby boy, but apparently they have methods of primarily conceiving girls.) This has the potential to be an imaginatively developed society, but we only catch a few glimpses of it in this first book. Similarly, the Northern invaders are, at least so far, a fairly one-note group, defined primarily by their cruelty and bloodthirstiness and their dark religion. One interesting feature is provided by the white rods carried by their priests and priestesses, which kill people and animals with a single touch. They seem to be a magical weapon, although I wondered if they might actually be a type of technology, which would be an interesting twist in this world.

The bloodshed and gore factor is fairly high in Grudging, acceptable for most older teenage readers, but I don’t recommend it for young or sensitive readers. The unusual Spanish setting and element of faith, mixed in a world with magic, make this a worthwhile read for those who like the YA fantasy genre. It will be interesting to see what direction the story takes in the next book in the BIRTH OF SAINTS series.
Profile Image for Michelle Hauck.
Author 7 books245 followers
February 25, 2016
As the author I want to thank everyone who has taken an interest in Grudging. It was certainly a labor of love, sometimes exhausting, sometimes exhilarating, and I can't wait to bring you the sequels.

You can add the sequel, Faithful, to your lists here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...
577 reviews25 followers
December 13, 2015
3.5/4 stars
I was lucky enough to be approached by the author, Michelle Hauck, and given the opportunity to read the first book in the Birth of Saints trilogy. Michelle also provided a guest discussion post about witches which I found really interesting. Particularly the way in which witches have been feared and disliked over the course of history and in fact vilified – it’s a very fitting topic given the nature of this story and is in fact a perfect introduction.

Grudging is an unusual tale of invasion, war and witchcraft set in a faux mediaeval Spanish country where the City of Colina Hermosa is currently under threat from a huge and ruthless army from the North. It tells the story of a small city whose way of life, religion and people are poised on the brink of elimination and who will need to bring themselves to seek aid from their neighbours, the Swamp Witches, who they fear and mistrust.

At the start of the story we are introduced to one of the major protagonists in the shape of Ramiro. At seventeen years of age Ramiro is yet to achieve manhood, and earn the right to wear a beard, by proving himself in battle and with a huge army situated just beyond the walls of his home his manhood could be finally within reach. His father however, in a bid to outmaneuver his bloodthirsty enemies, seeks to gain more time under the guise of parlay whilst sending his sons out on a dangerous mission to try and enlist the aid of the witches of the swamp. And so begins a strange tale of pride and prejudice.

The witches of the swamp live remote from others, they fear the world of men and therefore keep themselves secret and removed. Likewise nobody ventures into the swamp – unless for very good reason. The witches are a little like mermaids in that they sing to work their magic and have become known as sirena. I actually enjoyed the magic although I can’t say I totally understand how it works or why certain people have magic and others don’t. I liked that the witches had restrictions in terms of manipulating things around them. So, for example, Clare couldn’t turn herself into an animal to avoid detection, but she could provide an illusion whereby others, who were unaware of her presence in the first instance, might see an animal because they weren’t expecting to see her. Apologies, I probably haven’t explained that very well! Unfortunately Ramiro, his brother and their small company stumble unwittingly into the presence of two witches, a mother and daughter, and following a disastrous altercation only Ramiro and the young witch, Clare, remain on the road back to Colina Hermosa. And so follows a strange journey back to the City where Clare and Ramiro, through a number of escapes followed by rescues finally begin to realise that their own deep seated prejudices may not be entirely justified.

I enjoyed the Grudging however at the same time I did have a few issues, although not issues that spoiled the reading.

On the plus side I think the writing is good. The world of Colina Hermosa is very well drawn and easy to imagine. The journey to the swamp and the return also make for enjoyable reading and the whole is topped off by quite a liberal dash of action in the forms of fighting and battles.

I did worry that maybe this book would steer more towards the side of romance at the cost of plot but in that respect my fears were unfounded. Whilst there is undoubtedly growing tension and chemistry between Ramiro and Clare this is very gently developed and is definitely not the main focus of the book and I’m pleased to say there is no insta-love but more a gradual process of breaking down the barriers and enmity that both had surrounded themselves with.

In terms of the characters. I quite liked Ramiro and Clare and it was good to see the prejudices being removed from both – particularly when the pair returned to Colina Hermosa, with Clare set to help, and to then witness the distrust and dislike that she encountered from the people there – which also finally helped to open Ramiro’s eyes to the full extent of the prejudices he and his people bore towards the witches. I liked that the author didn’t make Clare into a damsel in distress but instead gave her more substance and a more dramatic role in terms of the Northern invasion. (Especially as Clare was untried at this point in terms of her magical capabilities). Ramiro. Well, he comes across as quite young and he obviously doesn’t have a great deal of experience to fall back on which in a way made him a little easier to get on with although I thought that his initial treatment of Clare was a bit unfair and in fact gave her a lot more reason to distrust him than the reverse. However, the two do start to form a slow bond and eventually join together against a mutual enemy. The other main characters are Ramiro’s parents. I liked the way they came across. His mother was fussy and over protective and his father, being a town leader, was very proper yet they came across as having a very loving relationship, both trying to save the other, and the wife does eventually take charge in quite an unseen way. We also make the acquaintance of the Leader of the Northern army – not enough information in that respect just yet and I definitely look forward to learning more about that particular character.

The world building – well, Colina Hermosa was very easy to visualise. It has an old fashioned feel and religion plays an important role to it’s populace. The area that I struggled with was the enemies from the North. They’re a brutal and bloodthirsty race who seem determined to conquer everything in their path – even if this means complete annihilation. I can’t say I really got a feel for these people at all. I couldn’t really understand their objectives or motivations or why they would want to destroy cities and people so ruthlessly. Why conquer a city if in the process you destroy the place and kill all it’s people? I think the other area that needs more world building – which may be forthcoming in future instalments of course – is the witches themselves. Why do they remove themselves and live so isolated? Partly this comes across as a desire to throw off the limitations of a society where women are treated as second class citizens and partly as a means to hide themselves from people who would fear their magic. Clare’s mother, for example, comes across more as though she is bitter about her own experiences and in that respect she keeps Clare isolated even from the other witches. I guess I just wanted more about the Northerners and the Witches – but, like I said, I think this could be forthcoming in future instalments.

I think at the moment this suffers a little in terms of where it wants to be or more to the point juggling both elements of the story as there is quite a lot to handle here. We have the City under threat and this vast and brutal army sitting waiting on their doorstep and then alternately the story of Ramiro and Claire, their developing relationship and the breaking down of years worth of prejudice and finally the coming together of both threads for the grand finale.

All that being said I thought this was an enjoyable read and I would be keen to read more to see how the world building and characters develop in future instalments.

My thanks to the author and publisher for providing me with a copy for review. The above is my own opinion.
Profile Image for Brenda Drake.
Author 12 books856 followers
December 28, 2015
Loved this! Michelle builds a wonderful fantasy world and fully developed characters. I really ejoyed reading Ramiro's and Claires' journey and can't wait for book two!
Profile Image for Beatrice.
221 reviews13 followers
February 6, 2017
I received an e-arc of this book via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of this book in any way.

I enjoyed absolutely everything about this book. From the setting, to the characters, to the story, to the writing style every aspect helped in keeping me glued to the pages.

While the plot in itself would not seem the most original in the realm of fantasy books (young hero sets out on an impossible mission to save his country and meets pretty girl with special talent in the process), there were enough original elements to make even the common tropes enjoyable. For starters, I loved the medieval Spanish atmosphere that radiated from the ciudades-estatos. It was definitely not something I had come across before, and so it kept me really interested in the setting as much as the story. Speaking of which, the world-building here was absolutely amazing! I think the author did an awesome job of incorporating different cultures and always giving just the right amount of information to understand her world, always avoiding boring info-dumps.

One of my favourite elements of this book was definitely the underlying theme of clashing cultures. The peaceful society of Colina Hermosa is suddenly faced with a bloodthirsty enemy that fully intends to wipe out anyone who doesn't conform to its ideals. I really enjoyed following the political attempts to compromise with an enemy that has absolutely zero tolerance for the different. And then there's the witches. Living secluded in the swamps, completely cut out from the rest of society, the Women of the Song live in a full-on matriarchy. I was really curious about the witches' culture, and while I didn't get many answers yet as to their traditions and beliefs, I am hopeful that the author will explore this society in more detail in the next books, seeing as she did such a fantastic job with Colina Hermosa in this one!

And then, the characters. I really, really loved all of them! I adored how each of the characters, even the "minor" ones, had a clear personality and evolved throughout the book. The Northerners were easy to dislike, especially given their brutality and cruelty, but it was clear that there were reasons for their behaviour deeply rooted in their culture and religion, and I look forward to finding out more details about this in the sequels. As for the heroes, I enjoyed seeing them doubt themselves and their abilities and question their choices: none of them were perfect, predestined saviours who reached their goals effortlessly. They made mistakes and had to find their own way through trial and error, and I loved them for it. And Ramiro and Claire! Oh, I ship these two so much. I'm incredibly happy that the author avoided an instalove and went for a more realistic relationship instead.

In short, I absolutely loved Grudging and I seriously can't wait to read the second book in the series! I definitely recommend it to everyone, but especially fantasy lovers: you won't be disappointed.

Originally published on Book for Thought.
Profile Image for Wendy.
540 reviews148 followers
October 26, 2016
Grudging starts with a cinematic bang when a peloton of bearded, Spanish-speaking horse soldiers charges an invading troupe of horse-fearing Northerners in an exciting sequence. The lens widens to include four different POVs from different walks of life, bringing texture to the story: an untried young cavalryman living in the shadow of his brother, a young "witch" from the swamps who doesn't know her own power, a civic leader responsible for a besieged city, and a man of the cloth who gives himself over to an enigmatic enemy army. The setting is intriguing--not a typical European medieval setting, but a southwest environment not unlike Tucson, with saguaros, ocotillo, and that Spanish-mission vibe. I was even getting a A Canticle for Leibowitz vibe, to the point where I started suspecting this *might* some distant post-apocalyptic future (probably not), though whether this is alternate-history, future, or pure fantasy is never fully explained. The magic isn’t typical, either. The young “witch” Claire wields a kind of psychological telepathy that preys on people’s thoughts and fears in clever ways, and turns out to have a pretty epic payoff. I enjoyed the Claire and Ramiro story-line most, all the more because several gut-wrenching emotional moments that moved me as much as the main characters. If you are a fantasy reader (and maybe even if you aren’t), give this one a read.

(Oh, and did I mention that the sequel comes out next month?)
Profile Image for T. Frohock.
Author 18 books309 followers
September 8, 2016
I'm not sure why more people aren't talking about this book. Grudging has great characters, tons of adventure, and a fast paced story.

The story is set in a pseudo-Spanish culture comprised of city-states, giving an alternative rip on early Iberian culture. The plot centers around one city-state's attempts to repel Northern "sun-worshiping" invaders.

There is the coming of age story with Ramiro, one of the young city-state warriors, who is sent to save his city by making a deal with the secretive witches that lives in the adjacent swamps, and Claire, a young witch who is just beginning to develop her magic of Song. In between Ramiro and Claire's adventures is a tense story of political intrigue with the mayor trying to save his city and buy time by negotiating with the ruthless invaders.

The characters are beautifully rendered and the plot runs an excellent balance between fast-paced action and political intrigue. The fight scenes, especially those with cavalry maneuvers, are tense and dead on.

Check it out!
Profile Image for Melissa Menten.
303 reviews9 followers
November 30, 2015
I was not sure how much I would enjoy this epic fantasy at first. The opening begins with a young soldier, Ramiro, hoping to be battle tested in a fantasy world seemingly based on the Spanish empire in America. As I really don't like war stories, I was pleasantly surprised at how much the characters, and the conflict, drew me in. There is great world-building and great characterization, from the struggles of Ramiro to overcome his fears and inexperience to the young witch, Claire, who has good reason not to help Ramiro, though she may be his city's only hope. Even the minor characters, such as Ramiro's parents and the leader of the Northerner enemies, are well fleshed out. The novel has a strong climax that completes the story, even while setting up book two. Michelle Hauck has done a lot to help and promote other writers with her website and contests, but this book proves she can write a gripping tale as well. Highly recommended for fantasy lovers.
Profile Image for Michelle.
Author 22 books438 followers
January 2, 2016
This is a meticulously plotted story of heroism and incredible odds, in a very Spanish-feeling world populated with characters obsessed with duty and wary of magic. The style makes you feel immediately that you're in another time and place- it's not stodgy, but formal enough to make it not feel too contemporary. I ended up liking Ramiro more and more as the story went on, and loved how bitter his feud was with Claire at the beginning.

The pacing of this book was perfection, with the stakes cranking a little higher with each scene, and the author not cringing back from allowing harsh disasters to befall her characters. I even loved the horse character! Will be looking for more from this author.
Profile Image for Kat.
63 reviews1 follower
December 26, 2015
A really great read. Engaging story with tons of twists and turns, and plenty to love... (see below)

Some absolute highlights:
-The Shakespearean-feeling witty banter between the crew heading off on adventure.
-So many interesting POV characters! I love seeing a story from different sides, and this one delivers on that for sure. The reader gets to see so many angles.
-Some really heartbreaking moments. Wow. I was totally surprised by a certain scene that I won't spoil. But no punches are pulled.

Can't wait for the next book. I loved the world and loved the descriptions of the city. You can really see things unfold in your mind.

Also I have no desire to ever go to a swamp after reading this! ha :)
Profile Image for Kara.
67 reviews13 followers
January 7, 2016
I will be upfront: Epic fantasy is not my thing. But I enjoyed Grudging so much, maybe I should make it my thing? My concept of myself as a reader has been turned upside-down.
As for the book, I loved the Hispanic influence, from the language to the culture. I also liked the concept of the witches using song for their magic. I hope we get to meet more witches in the next book. Which I will definitely read.
Profile Image for Eric Tanafon.
Author 6 books29 followers
April 4, 2016
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

'Grudging' tells the story of two cultures in conflict: a collection of Hispanic city-states (ciudad-estatos), something like classical Greece or medieval Italy, and their attackers, a 'Northern' culture of fanatical sun-worshipping warriors. Apart from both is a mysterious group of all-female witches who live deep in the swamps that border the arid realm of the ciudad-estatos.

The story focuses on a young, untried soldier, Ramiro, who is sent on a mission to propose an alliance between the ciudad-estatos and the witches, and an equally young, untried witch named Claire. Claire is just developing her powers of Song, which seems to be a blend of magical hypnosis and telepathic projection. The story also involves Ramiro's family, particularly his father Julian who is alcalde (mayor) of their city, Colina Hermosa, and his mother, Beatriz.

The story moves along at a good pace and the characters are fairly sympathetic. The bond between the soldiers and their caballos de guerra (war horses) provided some touching moments. The interweaving of the two main plot lines--Ramiro's and Claire's quest to win back to the besieged city, and Julian and Beatriz negotiating with and battling the enemy--was well done. I felt that there's more interesting character development to be found in the story line set in Colina Hermosa, along with a couple of unexpected twists. Events in Ramiro and Claire's joint coming-of-age story are a bit more predictable.

All in all, a solid, enjoyable story, though I had some difficulty with the world-building aspect. If that's not something you care about, you can probably skip the rest of the review.

I had some difficulty deciding if 'Grudging' takes place in an alternate Earth timeline, or a different world altogether--and if our own world, is it Spain or Mexico/Central America that the author has in mind? Saguaro cactus and cigar-smoking are mentioned, which seems to point to the Americas. But we aren't shown any substratum of native American culture beneath the Hispanic. Also, it's said that the people of the ciudad-estatos had originally been desert nomads before they decided to settle down. This isn't anything like the history of either Mexico or Spain in our world.

Maybe I should just relax, but thinking about this kept distracting me and taking me out of the story. Why were the people in this culture speaking Spanish at all, I wondered--a language which after all, came from Latin via the Roman Empire, which in this world, as far as I can tell, never existed? And why is their religion very much like Catholic Christianity, which in our world was imposed in the Americas as a result of a conquest and colonization that apparently never happened here?

The antagonistic culture, the Northerners, are portrayed as Viking types worshipping a cruel god who demands human sacrifice. They're fairly two-dimensional and other than providing a necessary element of danger and menace, add little to the story.

Another reviewer implies that the author had the Spanish-Moorish conflicts in mind when developing this story. If that's true, I would have liked it better if the story actually used Moors and Spaniards. There's a rich literature and history about that centuries-long clash of cultures to draw on, from medieval romances like Orlando Furioso to Don Quixote.

The matriarchal culture of the swamp witches seems potentially more interesting than the Northerners, though we really only get a brief glimpse into it. Claire and her mother are the only witches we see. Possibly the author will offer more insights in the sequels as to how the witches established their society and how it's organized.

There were a couple of other things that kept distracting me from the author's otherwise well-constructed story. One was the introduction of characters and expressions that jarred with the medieval-ish setting. For instance, Teresa, who joins the mission to contact the witches, is said to be a specialist in cultural anthropology at the local university. It seems very strange that a concept like 'cultural anthropology' could develop in a fairly isolated, medieval-level society, where only two other 'alien' cultures are known at all (and the ciudad-estatos have no ongoing contact with either one). Teresa gives the impression of having wandered into the story from a different world or

There are points where characters mention anachronistic concepts like 'electricity' or 'the subconscious'. Also, slangy English expressions turn up sometimes, such as 'kiddo' or 'stick up his butt', which don't do much for the ambiance. Maybe more appropriate Spanish equivalents could have been found?

Lastly, the book would have been better for a bit more editing and proofreading. I ran into more misused words and awkward phrasing than I'd expected.

But all that said, the story did hold my interest and it was enjoyable to read. All the main characters--except the bad guys, of course--were likeable, which is a big deal to me. I wish the author good luck with the series going forward.
Profile Image for H.W..
57 reviews6 followers
February 13, 2017
Grudging sucked me in immediately. I really appreciated Michelle's ability to sketch a scene with just the right amount of detail, color, and smell, and enable my imagination to fill the rest. Not overdone but the bones are good and they evoke the world clearly in my head. The characters similarly are neatly done, and the plot, perhaps is her greatest strength. The tension is built right off the bat and she keeps the tension going throughout the book. Also, Hauk takes care to build a world around her characters that provides depth, in culture, setting, language, custom -- and the fantastic element, which is delightfully understated. No over-the-top magic wielding, magic is hard, and it has a cost to the wielder, as it should.

That said, I did have trouble about a third of the way in, when character motivation, to me, did not jive with what I felt would be 'right.' I put the book down for a week before coming back to it and then raced through to the end. I recognize that the scene Hauk write had to have a certain structure, and perhaps the build-up could have been different nonetheless, the book kept me seeing the world, and her characters continued to build on me.

The last major strength I think bearing mention is the action scenes. From the very first assault on the young protagonist, Hauk shows an expert hand at depicting action. This is often graphic and brutal, which might catch some readers off guard. The book veers slightly towards horror in that regard, and it works. In this book battles are marked by violence and bloodletting. Violence is not the focus of the story -- that is where it differs say from a horror tome -- but it is built into the book in an integral way. On to the sequel, which I purchased immediately on finishing this novel. Well done.
Profile Image for Michael Mammay.
Author 9 books357 followers
February 12, 2016
Where do I start? There was so much I loved about this book. From the first chapter the setting really grabbed me. It's got a Spanish feel which reminded me of The Lions of Al Rassan. It was rich and such a great place to set the book.

The best part was the world building, specifically the cultures. Grudging had three separate and very distinct cultures -- the invaders, the city, and the witches. The author developed each one fully, and then threw them into a cauldron together and let them interact. Brilliant. It just came off so real -- misunderstandings over basic things, and no agreements coming easy. And that, to me, was the essence of the book. A clash of complicated cultures done in such a believable way. You want them to get along, but they don't, because of course they don't. Just like people in real life clash with those that are different from themselves.

I loved the stakes. This wasn't good vs. evil. It was culture vs. culture, with the future of one on the line. It's that simple, and that perfect in it's simplicity. Save the city. It took a while for me to get into the plot, but from about a quarter of the way in it moved steadily, until the third act where I couldn't put it down. I don't recommend starting the last quarter of the book if you've got a bedtime you need to make...because you're going to stay up reading it. The ending is just perfect. I had no idea what was going to happen, but then when it did it seemed inevitable and the only way the book could end. So well done. It was completely satisfying, providing a great ending to this book, but at the same time deftly left open the planned follow on.

The book was written in four points of view, and that's the one thing that I didn't love. While the voices were very distinct, and I think the story needed every one of them, it was a weird mix at times. This is an adult book, but two of the POVs, and Claire's especially, read YA to me. Claire's story was very much a coming of age tale. I think that will be a draw to some people -- adults who love YA especially, as there's definitely both -- but it's not my thing. (No offense to anyone who likes YA...read what you love.)

I recommend this to any lover of fantasy, especially people who read both adult and YA.

No doubt I'll be pre-ordering the sequel as soon as it's available.
Profile Image for Erika Rose.
12 reviews20 followers
October 1, 2016
A good start to the series.

I had a lot of trouble getting into the book. I am unsure of if it was the story or some outside force (my life was rather hectic). The book was well written emotionally, but I did not connect with the characters until the end. I look forward to the second book and a possible reread of this one.
Profile Image for D.M. Domosea.
Author 6 books3 followers
March 13, 2017
GRUDGING - the first books in Michelle Hauck's "Birth of Saints" trilogy - is a great start to a promising series. The writing is clean, tight, and smooth, the plot is engaging and the characters are compelling. The world Hauck has created is richly detailed, based on Earth's Latin American culture, but not itself clearly based on Earth. However, this isn't a "high fantasy" novel; rather, it reads more like historical fiction with elements of magic born from spirituality. Fans of Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER series may appreciate the series.

If possible, I'd give the book 4.5 stars, rather than just 4. The only reason this one isn't a full 5 for me is because I found myself so interested in the storyline of the two central characters - Ramiro and Claire - that I'd sometimes skip short sections that focused on the politics of the embattled Colina Hermosa. That's not to say the subplots involving Julian, Beatriz, or Father Telo weren't interesting...I just wanted to get to the next chapter with Claire and Ramiro. (As a side note, I've also finished the second book in the series, and didn't have this problem at all!)

Overall, I highly suggest this book for those who love historical fiction with a touch of magic and mystery, or those who like to read fantasy with worlds and civilizations that feel familiar. And if you are just starting out with the series, you are in luck - book 2, FAITHFUL is already out as well!
Profile Image for David Pomerico.
153 reviews11 followers
October 26, 2015
I am biased, since I edited and will be publishing this book, but I think that's okay: I liked enough to add it to the Voyager list as a manuscript, and think that the author has brought it to an even better place since then. I love the Spanish-analogue world, with it's emphasis on chivalry and honor, yet the questions such a society would inevitably come up against. I love the threat from the North, and how pressing the issue of time is. And I love the light magic that feels both fresh and concordant with the rest of the narrative. This is fantasy that could easily fall between a Marion Zimmer Bradley and Naomi Novik, and that's not a bad place on the shelf at all!
Profile Image for Jemi Fraser.
Author 18 books44 followers
September 6, 2016
A fabulous read! The world building is terrific with 3 unique and fascinating cultures having to deal with each other as war nears. The characters are vivid and true to their cultures - and to their hearts. Can't wait for the next instalment!
Profile Image for Michelle .
1,990 reviews222 followers
December 15, 2017
**You can see this full review and more at Book Briefs: https://bookbriefs.net**
Today the Steadfast blog tour takes a stop at Book Briefs. Steadfast is the third book in the birth of saints trilogy. Because I am new to the trilogy, I decided to start at the beginning, which I thought would be a good place to start. And it was a really good idea, because author Michelle Hauck has created a very rich and detailed world, and now that all of the books in the trilogy are out, this series is the perfect binge read when you are looking for some adventure steeped in magic and witchcraft. Grudging felt like magic meets the crusades. It was really interesting and unlike anything I have read lately. I'm not sure how I missed this book when it came out in 2015, but boy am I glad I found it now.

Grudging is the first book in the birth of saints trilogy. This is a trilogy that must be read in order. Grudging follows seventeen year old Ramiro and Claire. The atmosphere that Grudging takes place in was really interesting to me. On one hand, it felt a bit like a historical book, with wonderful descriptions of a medieval city, but on the other hand there was also this fascinating magical element woven into the story with the swamp witches.

Ramiro is on the fighting side, and is the son of a city official, and Claire lives in the swamp and is the daughter of a very powerful witch. . As soon as they meet, the pace of the book really picked up. There is so much going on in Grudging, and I can't wait to see it all developed even more in the next book. The most interesting aspect of Grudging was how different all of the characters are. It makes sense, since this is a story revolving around a war, but as a history nerd, I always love seeing societal, religious and cultural differences and how they impact decisions and personalities of the people within them. This was really apparent with the differences between Ramiro and Claire's families, for example. These cultural differences did play into a majority of the roadblocks for these characters, but it was really great to see such growth in both of them by the end of the book. I can't wait to see where the next book will take them.

Grudging does have a good bit of violence in it, but it was in line with the plot of the story, and it wasn't so much that it was off putting. However; I would say this book is best for upper young adult readers. Fans of epic fantasy, who don't mind a bit of fighting in a verging war setting will love this book. The characters are all wonderful. They were my favorite part of the story and they will be the reason that I continue on. I can't wait to see where book two takes us.

This review was originally posted on Book Briefs
Profile Image for books are love.
3,131 reviews24 followers
December 14, 2017
This is a really really good first book in the series. We have great world and character building. We see the complexity in relationships and the beginning of growth and journeys. Michelle Hauck does a great build up of the story and bringing her world to life. the fear and evil has a life of its own and you see it when of the Northerners.

I love how Ramiro has questions that are relevant but are left out there for us to ponder. Like why are the Northerners attacking now? I also like his trepidation and how he does have thoughts and a mind of his own even though he is taught as a soldier to be a certain way. He looks up to his brother Salvador and wants to make him proud and at times is overeager to prove but overall is a really great main character. He is complex and showing growth and you can tell is on a journey that will change him in so many ways.

This story is the beginning. the one that tells us of Ramiro and his people and the fight they are about to be in. It sets up the worlds and characters and introduces the Women of the Song to us. We see how the different cultures interact and feel about one another. We see how faith works in this world and where it fits into this story.

Ramiro and Claire are the focus and we see the beginning of something there. We see them start out as enemies, than become wary of one another as they deal with the heartbreak they feel, and slowly become friends and have feelings.

Claire is a Women of Song. She has had her world revolve around her mom and has been taught to distrust many things. So when Ramiro and the others come and things happen Claire is angry and scared. She loses so much so fast and doesn’t understand it all. Neither does Ramiro for it is now that he begins his change. He is angry and sad. These two must learn to trust one another and let the other in so that they can achieve a common goal. As Claire’s eyes are opened she realizes what Ramiro is saying and wants to help. Not sure how though and with Ramiro by her side she is confident together they can work to fight the Northerners. Claire and Ramiro learn to trust one another and about each other. They tackle things together and with faith in one another. There are times the story is slow but slow and steady gets the worm so to speak. I believe this is done to build up the tension and fear. To create the feelings of what is going on in you and have you absolutely in the moment.

A great first book in the series that sets up a friendship, the worlds and situation. That builds the characters and the story and history. It also gives us a starting journey for the characters and what is to happen. It never lacks danger or intrigue. Always gives us growth and life but also a buildup of anticipation as to what is to come and the battles the characters will go through internally and externally.
Profile Image for A.L. DeLeon.
Author 2 books1 follower
June 27, 2017
It took me a while to get into the book initially, but once I got about halfway in, I began to really enjoy it. The story between Ramiro and Claire was the greatest strength in it overall and I like that the author attempted to use the story as a way to show how two different cultures could ultimately understand one another. It will be interesting to see where this goes in the next novel of this series.
Profile Image for Alan.
90 reviews7 followers
December 21, 2015
Grudging starts off with our heroes' home under siege, and narrows its focus to the storylines of four main characters. The novel is well-written, and tightly paced, with likeable characters and a setting that I look forward to more of in subsequent volumes. While Grudging does contain some gory passages , the coming-of-age narrative of two of the main characters (Claire and Ramiro) will probably appeal most to a YA audience. The Spanish-inspired setting may also appeal to fans of Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion novels, and is a breath of fresh air in a genre flooded with Irish and English-based fantasy kingdoms.

Although I suspect most readers will enjoy the action-packed start, I found myself taking a little while to get into the novel, as I'm not a huge fan of battle scenes (my eyes glaze over during most of the battles in ASoIaF). For those like me who are more interested in characters talking in rooms I would encourage continuing with the novel, however, as the banter between Ramiro, Salvador, Theresa, Gomez, and Alvito really drew me in (I was a big fan of Alvito in particular--nothing like a charming swashbuckling character to get me interested).

Overall I very much enjoyed Grudging and would recommend it to fantasy readers looking for something a bit different. While I would have liked a bit more set-up, I feel like mileage in this area will vary, and that the fast pace will appeal to most fantasy fans, and especially those who appreciate a good coming-of-age narrative with a twist.

Profile Image for Anna Tan.
Author 24 books159 followers
December 10, 2015
Colina Hermosa is under siege, and in a last ditch manoeuvre, Alcade Julian Alvarado sends his two sons and some of their pelotón on a secret mission into the swamps to seek help from the witches, their traditional enemy.

Ramiro, his younger son, wonders why he is in this elite group, seeing that he is only a bisoño, yet to earn his first kill and be counted as a man. But when the mission falls apart tragically, he has to take up the responsibility and do all he can to take the reluctant witch back to his cuidad-estado to fulfil his mission.

Claire, a Woman of the Song, has been pestering her mother to teach her more about the powers that runs in her veins and her voice. However, when she finally obtains her mother's grudging assent, disaster strikes and Claire finds herself on an unwanted journey to places she used to long to visit.

The first thing that struck me about Grudging was Michelle Hauck's decision to set her story not in traditional medieval European settings but in what appeared to me as a very Hispanic setting. (I'm no cultural expert) In her guest post on diversity, she clarifies that her protagonists are based on Spanish and Moorish cultures. Her antagonists, the Northern warriors, have lighter hair and eyes. This casual overturning of common tropes is what makes the story even more attractive.

In many ways, Grudging is a classic coming-of-age story. When circumstances leave Claire and Ramiro bereft of support and guidance, they must do their best with what they have to stay alive, and in Ramiro's case, to fulfil his mission and responsibility to his city. Hauck writes their grief well, colouring it with different cultural expressions and expectations. Cultural differences cause misunderstanding and Hauck handles it deftly; instead of ignoring it, she builds on their generational prejudices to move the story along.

However, if you think that the novel devolves into a lot of touchy-feely scenes as they sort out their differences and mature in their choices, you're sorely wrong. There is battle, blood and gore, political manoeuvrings, magic and faith. Yes, Hauck also touches a little on religion, with Colina Hermosa practicing a faith very similar to Catholicism, whilst the Northerners serve Dal, a blood-thirsty God.

All in all, Grudging is a well-crafted fantasy that whets your appetite for more in the next two instalments.

* I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Perrin.
Author 5 books1 follower
November 11, 2017
I picked this book up and laid it aside several times. Something about it kept calling me back. So glad I slogged through it and finished. Therein lies my conundrum: all that these people went through, they slogged through. It was uncomfortable and hot and grueling. I didn't want to go there, and one of them for sure didn't want to, either, but he did. So I stayed with him. He worked it out and overcame and changed plans when things fell apart, which they did, often. But now that the evil priestess is knocked out, don't turn your back on her!

Now I gladly look forward to continuing the journey with the next novel. Ramiro and Clair are my kind of people. Gotta stick with 'em and see how things turn out.
Profile Image for Marty Mayberry.
Author 20 books177 followers
November 12, 2015
I was provided an ARC in exchange for an honest review of GRUDGING, by Michelle Hauck. Let me just say, I’m unbelievably psyched I got to read this so soon!

Wow. Where to begin?

Well, as you can tell, I enjoyed the first book in the Book of Saints trilogy. I can’t wait for the next in the series, FAITHFUL, which will be released in 2016.

Fantasy is a tricky genre to get right. Too much world building, and your readers get lost. Not enough, and they’re even more lost! Michelle does it just right in GRUDGING.

The story takes place in a fantasy world that centers around ciudades-estados, each its own fortress against the hordes of the North who have come to ruthlessly invade.

Ramiro, the seventeen-year-old protagonist, is a friendly youth on the cusp of manhood. He longs to earn his right to grow a beard, not realizing at first how costly earning that beard may be to the life he loves. In a quest to save his home city, Colina Hermosa, he, his older brother, and a few faithful friends, set out on a dangerous mission to cross the southern swamps and bring back a witch, a Woman of the Song. Only she can save his city from the northern invaders.

Claire has been raised in the southern swamps to avoid men and be cautious of using her song, magic passed from a woman to her daughter for multiple generations. When she’s called to serve as a Woman of the Song, she needs to find the strength buried deep within herself to embrace her legacy of magic, before the Northern army overruns Ramiro’s city.

Two worlds collide and sparks fly between Claire and Ramiro (sorry for the cliché, but it works). I thoroughly enjoyed their witty exchanges, the depth of their conflict, as well as the budding romance.

Michelle’s writing is beautiful and thought-provoking. Her characters are multi-dimensional and fully developed, and her settings burst to life with vibrant color.

Readers seeking a book about sacrifice and honor, and the cost of using magic to achieve the good of many, as well as fans of Robin Hobb and Patrick Rothfuss, will thoroughly enjoy Michelle Hauck’s debut novel, GRUDGING.

Profile Image for Christopher Owens.
289 reviews2 followers
May 16, 2016
First, let me say that I don't read much epic fantasy, and that probably has more bearing on the rating I've given than any other factor. There's a lot that I loved in this book. The writing was great, without using language that distracted me from the plot and characters. I found the major characters to be well developed and reacted in realistic ways to the situations they confronted.

At 4-stars, I like Grudging - l like it a lot, but didn't love it. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, there was a lot of description, which made the pace slower than what I prefer. I think that's one of the main reasons I don't read a lot of epic fantasy. I need to add that I thought the pacing was excellent during the last few chapters, which brought the story to a satisfying ending while leaving some things open to be continued in the next volume of the series. Aside from the pacing, the only thing that I believe could be improved would be to give more depth to the antagonists - the Northerners, their leader, and high priestess. I would expect to learn a lot more about them in future volumes, but would have been good to know a bit more to flesh them out in this book.

All in all, I like the world, the characters, and the tone of the writing. I'll be back to read Faithful, the next installment of the series.
Profile Image for Valerie Bodden.
Author 401 books27 followers
February 14, 2017
Spectacular! This book immersed me in its world and made me fall in love with its characters. The historical Spanish-feeling setting felt like a character in its own right--I was rooting for the city of Colina Hermosa all the way through. And the swamp--it's nowhere I want to visit soon, but I loved all the vivid details, especially as it was viewed through the eyes of a desert dweller.

The multiple points of view offer a wide view of this world while at the same time taking the reader into the lives of several compelling characters: Ramiro, the young warrior eager to prove himself in battle; Claire, the witch who wants an opportunity to see the world; Julian, Ramiro's father and the leader of the city who bears the weight of living up to his responisbility to his people and his family; and Father Telos, the hilarious and astute priest.

Pit these against a formidable enemy with a powerful weapon, and you have an exciting adventure that kept me flipping pages late into the night.

I can't wait to check out Faithful, the next book in the series.
Profile Image for L. Storms.
Author 3 books37 followers
February 14, 2016
Really enjoyed this one! Had a bit of a difficult time getting into it in the first couple of chapters as it has a strong Spanish-Mexican type of setting. (A lot of Spanish words thrown in for good measure, which only served to slow me down.) So, I really hesitated to continue reading as I felt like I was stumbling a bit. I think that most epic fantasy tales have a King Arthur sort of flavor so it becomes difficult to accept a change in conventional setting when you're a reader who's used to the norm.

But SO glad I kept going! A great story and characters you truly come to enjoy. I won't lie when I say I was hesitant about Ramiro in the beginning... He's a bit of an uncertain kid. But that resolves itself as the novel goes on as that's really what he's supposed to be in the beginning of the book.

All in all - I'll be glad to continue reading the series! I look forward to learning more about Claire. Can't wait to see what more she discovers about herself!
Profile Image for Kasey Cocoa.
954 reviews39 followers
August 13, 2016
Hauck has written a very well developed fantasy novel with this one. My son (11) and I took turns reading the book. Today he asked if we could get the audio-book so we could both listen to it on our trips. That tells me he really enjoys it and finds it intriguing and interesting. I like the world-building and character development a great deal. The plot is fascinating and quickly draws in the reader to a world they won't want to leave any time soon. The pace is quick without skipping too fast ahead. Just enough information is provided in just the right places. I can easily recommend this to those who enjoy fantasy. While my son was able to read, understand, and enjoy this book I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for younger readers. I feel it's best aimed at the YA audience. I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influenced my opinion.
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