The Heir of Night (2011) is the debut novel from Helen Lowe, and the first book in a projected four book series (whatever happened to trilogies?). Although the story is set up in a familiar way, The Heir of Night brings a few twists to its telling: some of which are more successful than others.
The Keep of Winds is up on the far side of somewhere, a military bastion on the outskirts of civilisation. The Keep is the ancestral home of the family of Night, one of the many Houses of the Derai people. The Night, at least, from their perspective, are one of the most ancient and honorable of the houses: foremost in war, foremost in tradition and foremost in the eternal battle against the Derai's Darkswarm foe.
Malian is the teenage heir to the House of Night. Although she's fine with the war stuff, the traditional lore bits are a bit grinding, and she'd rather spend her days exploring crumbling ruins than learning her endless lessons. Kalan, another teenager, is from the House of Blood. Raised as a warrior, he was eager to follow his family's own military tradition until he started busting out magical powers. As such, he got chucked out of the military and into the priesthood. Now he's doing his own book-learnin' at The Keep of Winds.
Although the two teens are the focal point of the story, Ms. Lowe also scatters in another handful of characters - the head of the House's elite guards, an aging steward and a pair of magical rangers. (Of course they're magical, and mysterious and misunderstood and heirs to long and noble traditions. Tolkien has a lot to answer for.) One of the most successful points of distinction to The Heir of Night is that most of the characters - major or minor - are female. There's no self-conscious rationalisation to this (à la Anne McCaffrey), it just is. The Derai make no professional or social differentiation between the sexes, and both men and women are up for every task in the book - warrior, ruler, ranger, steward or mage. This applies throughout the book as well: women are both the heroes and the villains. Although the characters aren't always as fully developed as they could be, their motivations, good or evil, never have to do with men.