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Merle

Merle

The Crown of Stars series by Kate Elliott

King's Dragon - Kate Elliott

I reviewed this first book, King's Dragon, after reading it; you can find that early, enthusiastic review here. That was close to a year ago and that enthusiasm feels a long way away. So this will be my commentary on the series as a whole.

 

But before you think this means Crown of Stars is a lousy series, you should know that the fact that I finished a seven-book saga means a lot, and the fact that I did so without hating any of the books means even more. While I was only enthusiastic for the first three books, I at least mildly enjoyed the following four. Normally when I read more than three or four volumes of anything, I not only wind up one-starring at least one of them, I hate those one- or two-star books so much that I visit the pages repeatedly in search of other one-star reviewers to upvote and commiserate with. I got to the end of this seven-volume series without actively disliking any of them, which may sound like faint praise, but it isn't.

 

So, the first three books are a lot of fun. Elliott makes some unusual choices, and creates a fantasy world that's well-grounded in the early Middle Ages, and clearly based on tons of research, but is also a living, breathing place. And it's the Middle Ages with a twist: defined gender roles are a thing, but instead of "men do everything and women make babies" (which is obviously a massively oversimplified version of how the medieval period really worked, but let's roll with it for the moment) it's "men fight, and women administer estates and run the church." Which creates something of the feeling of a rigid society, while allowing for a range of stories to be told that don't just tread the same old ground of sexism. Meanwhile, while Elliott deviates in some respects she hews much closer to history than most fantasy authors in others; religion and the church play a major role in the series, and it's dynamic and interesting, with some clerics as heroes, others as villains and others in between, just as in the rest of society. It isn't preachy; from everything I can tell Elliott finds religion much more interesting than your typical fantasy author does, but she's not Christian, let alone Catholic. This is a rare thing for fantasy and adds a lot of dimension to the world. And then she makes some unusual choices and lets characters take surprising paths.

 

But around the fourth book, it starts to become a little stale; the paths Elliott takes become too familiar with use, to the point that I felt less was at stake even as the scope grows broader, and my excitement waned. Nor do the characters stand up to such a long series; they never grow three-dimensional enough for that. I won't say it's just me and my impatience for series, because a lot of people seem to have grown disillusioned with these books. But it seems to me to maintain its quality better than most more popular series, which descend into endless travelogues and non-events. Perhaps Crown of Stars just drew the short end of the marketing stick and didn't build the hype or the huge, devoted sort of fanbase that any series needs to survive the natural leaching of interest that comes with such a long work.

It's too bad, because there are good ideas here, and I wish they'd been presented in a trilogy rather than a seven-book series. Happily, Elliott has also written some strong fantasy trilogies, and is at work on more! Go read them, they're good. As for this series, it's worth a try, especially if you like long sagas. And if you read the first two or three or four and decide not to finish, that's okay too.

King’s Dragon: 4
Prince of Dogs: 3.5
The Burning Stone: 4
Child of Flame: 3
The Gathering Storm: 2.5
In the Ruins: 3
Crown of Stars: 3