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The Gathering Storm by Kate Elliott

The Gathering Storm - Kate Elliott

A disclaimer: for someone who’s read a lot of fantasy, I am not a big series reader. In fact, after beginning Crown of Stars I realized that, should I make it through all seven volumes, it would become the only completed adult epic fantasy series longer than a trilogy that I'd ever read in its entirety. Every word there counts: I’ve read entire epic fantasy series for younger readers, mostly when I was one. I’ve read series that wouldn’t quite count as “epic fantasy,” because they ended, then added previously-unplanned sequels after proving to be popular. I’ve read every volume of one lengthy and ongoing fantasy series, and an embarrassing number of a series that went bad long before I stopped reading. And I’ve read a whole lot of trilogies. But seven-volume series are not my thing. I expect every book I read to have something new, different, and exciting to offer; simply continuing to offer up the same characters and world, no matter how much I initially enjoyed them, doesn’t cut it.

All that said, in my view this book worsens the slump that began in book four. First, because Liath and Alain have yet to be fully re-integrated into the story after their otherworldly journeys in the previous volume. Liath spends most of the book in a time-travel warp, while Alain loses most of his memory and spends the book ping-ponging from one captivity to another. (Alain is not the only character to spend much of the book detained by somebody or other, but he definitely logs the greatest number of abductions, for those keeping score at home.) With the possible exception of Sanglant, the rest of the cast have never been interesting enough to carry the story on their own. The POVs of Stronghand, Zacharias, Anna and Ivar could all still be removed without significant harm to the story; Rosvita and Hanna are more relevant but not complex enough to merit starring roles. Without strong plotlines for Liath and Alain – and set in a world by this point well-established – this installment isn’t nearly as exciting as the first three. But it is the longest yet.

Second, the plot doesn’t quite work. One admirable aspect of this series is its progression of antagonists. Rather than one seven-volume standoff, the series so far has featured several major conflicts that each lasted for a book or two, with the seeds for later plots planted early on. Its only constant villains never openly declare themselves, but rather take advantage of any situation. All that keeps things fresh. The downside here is that the impending-cataclysm and ensorcelled-king plotlines aren’t as interesting as the plots in previous books. It’s never clear exactly what our heroes should be doing about all this, which prevents much real momentum from building. And their ultimate actions seem more a result of luck and others’ off-screen decisions than their own efforts, rendering the preceding several hundred pages of questing and minor POVs superfluous.

Also, the book loses points for some truly moronic character decisions . . . letting valuable and dangerous prisoners loose; letting valuable and dangerous prisoners loose and allowing them to carry off one’s own young child as a hostage . . . clearly the plot required more villainy from said prisoners, but surely it doesn’t also require our heroes to be too stupid to live?

Anyway, I’ll call this 2.5 stars because while it is padded, it’s also reasonably enjoyable. While the plot doesn’t coalesce in a very satisfying way, it does keep moving, rather than bogging down in endless travels or squabbles like some fantasy sequels. And it ends in an interesting place, blowing much of the story wide open in a way that provides a lot of possibilities for the final two books. I do plan to read on, but not immediately.