ROC NY, NY 2005
I am notorious for refusing to start a series until all of the books are at least in print. I hate waiting a year between “episodes”. I want to immerse myself in the world and get through the whole story. Although I may not read the books back to back, I will at least still remember the last one before I move on to the next. Given how much I read in the course of the year I find it’s much more difficult if I have to wait for the next book.
This series was originally published in London, England. It does have a very British sensibility about it. The lands and the characters are reminiscent of Scotland and Wales and the lowlands of England in both their geographic descriptions and variations in dialect.
The fictional landscape is compelling. The different kinds of peoples, both by geography and by race, are fascinating. Much attention has been paid to the variations in culture and manners. Although as is common in fiction and ARP gaming you find the nobility popping up in the most unexpected places.
The first book of the series is really a story of culture shock and acclimatization. The main character, who eventually takes the name Rhiannon – after the myth which is very much the same story as told in the Mabinogion – is our fish out of water. She is by birth a member of a most savage race in the far reaches of the country. But as a half breed (explained very well and not uncommon among her people) she did not acquire the appropriate genetic traits to make her accepted by her tribe. She knows that they will kill her if she does not grow her horns by her menses and so when it arrives she hides it and plots her escape.
The story of her acculturation is complicated not only by her wildness and the fearfulness of one raised in a brutal environment. Part of her escape from the tribe involves her killing a man, who as it turns out is one of the Kings Own. There is also witchcraft and fairy talents (and races), necromancy and kidnapping and of course first love.
ROC NY, NY 2006
The second book is typical of the middle of a trilogy. It takes place in the capitol of the kingdom where the man who was killed was in an elite squad close to the king or Riah himself. Our heroine lies wasting in the prison tower while all the forces of evil are lined up against her and against the kingdom. There is a great deal of court intrigue and we get to meet some of the characters that were referred as important figures in the first book.
The interesting thing about this second book is that we’ve been lead to believe that the kingdom is well and justly ruled. Instead we find a great deal of corruption still exists. That the leaders and much of the populous hold grudges and racist attitudes based on the war 20 years ago when the king came into power. There is the wedding scheduled between the children of two of the great powers to seal the pact of peace that was made at the end of the war. This is threatened by jealousy as well as those old prejudices which come closer to the surface as the wedding date approaches.
The language conventions, which at this point in the series the reader has adjusted to, become stretched to annoying in this book. We meet the Keybearer of the Coven, the head of the witches and the school for magic users. In and of itself this is not an issue, but she has as a familiar an elf owl. The commentary the owl makes, things like “You-hooh fool-hooh too-hooh” grated against my sensibilities like fingernails on a blackboard. Luckily the owl does not have a large part in the story.
On the other side of language is Rhiannon’s continuing struggle to understand the idioms of the human (English) tongue. Her friend and language teacher occasionally succumbs to humor in recognition of the ridiculous saying things like, “The courtiers ‘o the court will court ye in the courtyard most courteously.” Rhiannon may find these examples of language “Stupid.” but I found them delightful.
By the end of the second book everything is in turmoil, and nothing is resolved. We know who all the “bad guys” are even if the characters in the book are still confused by the intrigue. Still, by the end there are hints of hope to take the reader into the third book.
ROC NY, NY 2007
The final book of the series suffers a bit from multiple settings and ambiguous time. It’s not always easy to tell what is happening with one group at the same time something else is happening with another group. This leads to a certain frustration when the reader is waiting for the characters in one scene to catch up with the character events in the preceding scene. It also occasionally frustrates the pacing of the tension as news of the events at other settings seems to arrive suddenly and arbitrarily.
The great thing about this book is the lack of Deus ex Machina. All of the strange and wonderful solutions have been foreshadowed or demonstrated as abilities in the earlier books. Some of the plot twists are actually quite unexpected even if they do follow a logical progression. The threads are wrapped up in the end but there is a definite feeling of a world moving forward and the characters still having growth and challenges ahead.
The world of this series is well thought out. The magical systems make sense and are consistent, even when the characters aren’t quite sure how they managed to achieve what they do. The characters, for the most part, are neither entirely bad nor entirely good which is refreshing. As much as we revile the bad guys we understand and almost sympathize with their motivations.