An independent review
The Bonding Blade by M.L. Doyle
The premise is fun: the ancient Sumerian goddess of love, sex, war love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, justice and power, Inanna (also known as Ishtar) becomes embodied in former U.S. soldier who lives in Minneapolis. Of course, where there’s Inanna, there has to be her lover, the demigod Gilgamesh, too.
Being Inanna means you get human warriors, too: Rashid, descendant of a family dedicated to the goddess for millennia; and Quincy, a man seemingly chosen at random by ancient forces. And then there are the two giant cats, Pearl and Granite, who guard the goddess and her human host, Hester Trueblood.
The Bonding Blade is the second book in the author’s Desert Goddess series. The first, The Bonding Spell, described how U.S. Army Sergeant Hester Trueblood picked up a medallion when deployed in the Iraqi desert. That act invoked the bonding spell, and Hester became the avatar of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess, and all the trappings that involved. The story then shifts ahead a few years, after Hester’s transition out of the Army and return to her home town of Minneapolis. She opens a restaurant, remodels an old warehouse loft into a luxurious living space fit for a goddess, and tries to learn how to deal with her new reality. Apparently, being the incarnation of the Sumerian goddess of fertility and war involves destroying a lot of monsters. As well as a continuing war against Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft.
The Bonding Blade opens with Hester/Inanna and her warriors, Rashid and Quincy, again destroying a monster that threatens humanity. However, in this installment, one of her warriors is suddenly ill. It turns out that the magic that bound him to Inanna/Hester also binds him to the control of Inanna’s immortal enemy Hecate. Only Gilgamesh has the key to the answer. And there’s romantic and sexual tension between the demigod and both Inanna and Hester.
More than paranormal
It may seem like a paranormal/occult romp, especially given Inanna’s divine sexual desires. But M.L. Doyle is a gifted writer who delves deep into everything this premise could mean. The 21st-century embodiment of the ancient goddess, Hester Trueblood is still very human. A former U.S. Army sergeant, she’s smart, brave, capable of many things. She’s a veteran, a business owner, an employer.
Much of the story is about Hester navigating the intersection of the divine and the mundane worlds, and about maintaining her own identity against the pressure to merge with the goddess. Doyle entertains readers with the ancient mythology and fantasy, while also dealing with some dark, and very current issues: child sexual abuse. It’s a dark and disturbing subject, and Doyle deals with it seriously and in a way that might be disturbing to some readers.
The novel’s setting seems so ordinary, so familiar, even though I’ve only been to Minneapolis a few times. It’s Middle America, recognizable to all. Hester’s family is recognizable, too, with all the aggravations, hurts, drama and love that implies.
With humor, rich description and an action-driven pace, The Bonding Blade, and its predecessor, The Bonding Spell, truly bring the goddess back to life.
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