Damaged but Powerful: The Rise of Anastasia Aaronson

Anastasia Aaronson is a tough, no-nonsense, rebellious soldier — so rebellious, in fact, that she’s the longest-serving lieutenant in the British army, having been repeatedly passed over for promotion because “I cannot keep my mouth shut and have a worrying habit of telling my superiors that they are being stupid just because they are.” She and her troops are stationed in the Persian Gulf on a peacekeeping mission and descending into a village ahead of potential mayhem when one of her troops steps on a land mine. Anastasia wakes up in a military hospital, her left foot and left hand missing, the left side of her face horribly scarred, and no memory due to a tiny piece of shrapnel in her brain.

Four months later, with the help of armed forces resettlement services, she finds a research assistant position in a library in Rochester, which offers the quiet and normalcy she craves. She visits a local bar with her new roommate on her first night in town, which is where she first hears the voices. She has no idea whose they are or where they come from, but she recognizes their evil and, like the retired soldier she is, leaves the bar to locate their source.

What she finds are reptilian creatures attacking an elderly homeless man, although they soon turn their attentions to her. From out of nowhere, Anastasia finds herself able to create blue balls of fire, which kill the creatures before she collapses near the first victim.

She awakens battered and bruised in the hospital, where a smarmy police officer, Detective Sergeant Spencer, badgers her for answers she can’t provide. However, in the middle of the night, Anastasia hears the voices again and realizes the creatures are in the children’s ward, preying on tiny patients. She struggles to reach the ward and eventually defeats the creatures, but leaves human and supernatural carnage in her wake, as well as sustaining more injuries. And, of course, Detective Sergeant Spencer shows up to nag her again, absolutely certain of her guilt.

Not far away, wizard Otto Schneider is battling Sean McGuire, an exceptionally powerful familiar who has been sent to the mortal realm to kill all the familiars Otto freed (the extent of which is the focus of a later Realm novel, Familiar Territory). Sean is grateful to have been rescued from Ireland’s potato famine and determined to fulfill Daniel’s order to track down and slaughter every captive human returned to the mortal realm.

He has another mission as well: to capture Ana and deliver her to Daniel in the demon’s never-ending quest to gain status in the immortal realm. He has her in his sights when, much to his eternal astonishment, he’s attacked by a very tall and determined woman with an exceptionally large purse, who turns out to be Ana’s new library colleague, Alex. With BFF Abi, also a library employee, the women turn out to be Ana’s most loyal mortal allies.

Human assaults notwithstanding, Sean tries enticing Ana with promises of immortal rewards, but stunned by her strength and resistance, eventually turns to all-out battle with shilts, ogres, and countless humans dead. He still misjudges Ana, to his eternal peril.

Steve Higgs’ newest character in the Realm universe is a fierce and indomitable warrior, whether in service of her nation or fellow human. The immortals have been duly warned.

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