I continue to enjoy this series; my forays into epic fantasy are infrequent these days, but I am glad I finally took the chance on this series despite mediocre reviews. Again, I intend to write a fuller review after reading the whole series.
So, this is a fun book; like the first, it features a grounded medieval world peopled by a large cast of believable characters. Elliott takes an unexpected turn in this book – after reading a lot of epic fantasy, I generally expect that I know where the plots will go, and it’s refreshing when they don’t go that way. In particular (trying to avoid spoilers here) I appreciate her willingness to actually resolve major plotlines, rather than having the same good guys fighting the same baddies in the same places and the same ways for seven books straight. I am very interested to see where this series goes next and how events so far fit into the larger picture.
But because this book’s merits are basically the same as those of the first installment, even though I liked this book and moved on to the third almost immediately, I’m going to spend a little more time on its weaknesses. One is that it doesn’t follow through on the momentum built up by the end of King’s Dragon; instead it takes several steps back, such that the plotting is akin to that of a typical first book in a fantasy series, with a slow, somewhat padded beginning, gradually building up to what becomes an excellent conclusion. So I had some doubts along the way, but by the end I was sold all over again; there’s some great action and it hits all the right emotional notes.
Many underwhelmed reviewers talk about a proliferation of point-of-view characters, but for epic fantasy, the number is normal (5 or 6 get substantial page time, with another 2 or 3 minor ones). The real trouble seems to be the selection of POVs. A good epic fantasy POV has both personal struggles and an active role to play in the larger story. Liath and Alain have both, which is why they’re the protagonists. So does Sanglant, although despite his eventual importance being telegraphed from page one, he’s yet to get significant page time as of the end of this book. But then there are the others. Rosvita and Hanna are observer POVs; they have access to important people and events, but have nothing personal at stake and undergo no growth or change. On the other end of the spectrum, Anna and Ivar feature in self-contained plotlines, in which their significant personal struggles have little connection to the larger story. Hence, all four of these remain background characters in readers’ minds. Playing armchair quarterback for a moment, I believe this would have been a stronger book if the POVs of Rosvita, Hanna and Ivar had been replaced by those of Sapientia, Theophanu and Wolfhere – interesting characters who are central to the big-picture story, but also have personal challenges and growth. (Anna I would keep – including the story of a pair of orphaned refugee children adds a richness and grounding that the other characters can’t provide. And I appreciate getting a complete storyline in a single book; it provides closure in what’s otherwise one chapter in an ongoing series.)
At any rate, this was fun reading and it’s always nice to find an epic fantasy series that I actually enjoy, since there aren’t many of them – the adolescent male wish-fulfillment fantasy that tends to dominate the subgenre is definitely not my thing. I am now happily into the third book and hopeful about the rest of the series.