Aria is a Templar, she was born a Templar to a Templar family. She was trained to be a Templar – but when the time came, she didn’t not take the Oath. Despite her mother’s nagging. Despite living in poverty and no work skills, she refuses to take that Oath and accept the comfortable life that comes with it
But as a Templar she is still consulted by the local vampires who want expertise in deciphering a magical symbol – an exposing a deadly and complicated feud in the process.
One of the storyline elements I most loved was the central question “what have the Templars become?”
The concept has a lot of really nice nuance on it – and a really interesting moral quandary and debate with no simple answers and lots of different facets.
On the one hand, we have the utter passivity of the Templars, their lack of interference, how they’ve become rather irrelevant in the modern world (even if they are still a deeply feared power) and how they general live lives of extreme wealth and comfort while giving nothing back. This is wonderfully part of Aria‘s own refusal to take the Oath, while still claiming identity with the Templars themselves. She believes in them, but isn’t comfortable with what they’ve become.
The flip side is, we have the Templar’s own genocidal history. We have a history that shows the Templars judging, picking sides, declaring various beings evil and generally not being proud of that. The debate is whether they don’t act because few things are that simplistic (especially in a multi-faith world, exactly who are the “pilgrims” on WHAT “path” that need protecting) or whether that’s an excuse for the passivity?
This all feeds into the main plot line of the vampires and their attacker… and how it’s so very very difficult to say which side is right. Or, rather, they’re both right. And wrong. It’s complicated and neither side especially has the moral high ground.
It’s also pretty nice to have a protagonist with a big shiny sword and shiny powers who, in turn, cannot just nuke the enemy until victory is achieved.
All this level of nuance also comes to Aria and her family. Obviously there’s a rift with her turning her back (kind of) on the family business – but equally there’s an immense amount of love there. It’s layers and it’s wonderful.
There are other strong women in the story but not necessarily in huge roles (her mother is an especially complex and strong relationship). There’s also some interesting comments from her regarding Leonora, the female leader of the vampires and how she’d love to back and celebrate a powerful female leader- but isn’t going to excuse Leonora because of that or overlook her huge flaws.
I also really like the depiction of Aria’s poverty. A lot of characters in this genre claim poverty – but it’s just that, a claim. They tell us they’re poor, it may even be a useful character tool to make them take a mission they otherwise wouldn’t. But they don’t live as if they’re poor. We see little budgeting, we see little struggle or worry. While Aria worries about her back rent, worries about meeting in a café because she can’t afford anything in it, she worries about transport, she worries about getting a decent meal. She worries about missing work and frequently goes without sleep to work and complete the mission. It feels real, it is not just a powerful motivator but also informs her character a great deal.