I’m used to Jennifer Roberson’s series containing fairly self-contained novels, so this one took me by surprise. Tiger and Del is a series of nearly independent novels, and while the Cheysuli series very much has an overall arc to it, each novel is also pretty self-contained, which is essential since the books happen years apart, and feature new generations of characters as time goes on.

Karavans is part one of a much more tightly spun story. As such, it takes time to get started. There’s a bunch to unpack, and much of it we don’t get a lot of answers to.

The easy part is that the nation of Sancorra has just been overrun by a warrior people called the Hecari. At this point it’s best to just think of them as Mongol stand-ins, though we may learn more later. This has led to a lot of people fleeing the country to get away from them, including one of the central groups of characters.

To do this, a family packs everything up in a wagon, and prepare to join a regularly scheduled caravan out of the country. These are complicated affairs, with a lot of people moving, and fortune-telling is used to make sure that things will go well. This brings in the rest of the characters.

But not the major MacGuffins. The central one, introduced at the very start, is Alisanos. We’re never given a great idea of what exactly it is, as those few characters who know anything about it aren’t talking. It’s an area deep in the woods that anyone with any sense stays away from, as anyone who goes in, does not come out… if they’re lucky. We slowly start getting a bit more as the half-way point approaches.

After a very slow-burn start, the book does start picking up momentum, and we get into real plot territory. Simultaneously, a couple of tedious days of the caravan preparing finishes, and it starts to move. In fact, a sign of the too-slow start is that we spend nearly half the novel with a lot of detail of two days, and then we skip forward through much of a week before the ending starts powering up.

And there is certainly a powerful action climax to the book, which helps make it a satisfying read, but it’s really all just a lead up to a second book. Some important plot threads are just getting started, and the ending itself puts a main character into new, unknown, danger. The ending also promises we’ll learn a lot more about Alisanos next time.

This is an unfinished series, with current info saying book four is to be self-published. I imagine the series didn’t do all that great, and I certainly don’t recommend it as a place to start with Jennifer Roberson, who I do generally recommend (start with Sword-Dancer). Overall recommendations on the series will have to wait.