||An excellent continuation to this
series. I am growing fond of many of the characters, and seem to be
getting used to the writing style, because I had no trouble with it at
all, counter to what I wrote in my review of The Briar King.
As in the previous book, most of the
characters wander around the kingdom with no idea of what they are
supposed to do, or what is happening around them. But unlike the
previous book, all of the characters take some action that changes the
directions of their particular stories, bringing them under some sort of
control -no matter how tenuous that control actually is.
I wonder if the author actually created
another language, with vocabulary and sentence structure, and so on, for
this trilogy. There is a lot of ancient language used here, whether in
verse, swears (Aspar does that a lot), or parts of the blurbs at the
start of a new section. I tend to skip over foreign languages, because
they are the least interesting parts of fantasy novels, to me, but I
wonder how much work actually goes into creating them...
The stories of The Charnel Prince pick
up a few months after those of The Briar King left off. As in that
novel, most of the plotlines are quite separate; however, many of them
meet up by the end.
First there is Aspar, Winna and
Stephen, who are sent by the church to kill the Briar King. Instead,
they find a Sefry who shows them monks creating a new faneway in the
King's Forest, one that turns out to be devoted to an evil saint.
Stephen had walked a blessed faneway in The Briar King in order to gain
his saint-blessed powers of memory and hearing. They realize the church
is doing some evil business, especially when they see a greffyn working
alongside the monks. The Briar King attacks the monks, but keeps Aspar
alive, much as he healed Aspar at the end of the last book. It obviously
knows that Aspar has made the Forest his charge.
Anne, princess of Crotheny and heir to
the throne, is trying to make her way back home, after being chased by
creatures that cannot die as she left the burning convent where she was
being trained. In the last book, she remained a spoiled princess until
the very end. Here, she starts out as a nobody washing clothes in order
to buy transport across the water to her homeland. She is very nearly
found out by the thugs who want her dead, which is everybody. Sir Neil
has also been sent to look for Anne, and he finds her at the same time.
Because of a lack of trust, she leaves him behind when she leaves, but
he follows her trail until they meet again. Anne's Vittellian protector
Cazio gets her out of many messes, but he doesn't figure out that she is
the Princess until she is revealed at the end.
Back in Crotheny, Queen Muriele, now
Queen Mother, as her mentally disabled son rules the throne, tries to
keep the kingdom together. With so many evil creatures roaming the land,
and entire villages gone mad or destroyed, her enemies have multiplied.
Everybody is trying to influence her son Charles, and she has many
proposals for marriage. Even the local head of the church tries to
threaten her into doing his bidding. It becomes increasingly clear to
the reader that the Church is up to something very bad, which is
confirmed in the last chapter of the book. They believe the only way to
save the world from the evils and disarray of the present times is to do
something abhorrent to cleanse it. We don't know what they plan to do,
but we will undoubtedly find out in The Blood Knight.
As I suspected, it was Prince Robert,
who murdered the Emperor, who woke from the dead in the last pages of
The Briar King. I didn't suspect that Muriele's curse was the thing that
brought him back. I have never understood curses that keep people alive
forever. It might bring them misery in many ways, as the people from
Pirates of the Caribbean proclaimed, but they also have the
opportunities to do great evil, because they cannot really be usurped,
for long. Regardless, Robert returns and takes the throne, but not
before Muriele sends Charles into hiding. She is then imprisoned, but
still has a few allies.
A new character in this book is the
composer Leoff. He is clueless about every kind of political motivation
possible, all the way through the book. He helps defeat some people who
try to flood the lands around Elsen castle, and earns a commission by
Queen Muriele to create a masterpiece of music. Of course, he befriends
the wrong people, politically, but little Mery ends up saving him, and
he saving her, to his advantage. When Robert takes the throne, Leoff's
work is subject to the scrutiny of the Church, which censures much of
what he planned (Muriele told him not to worry about the Church, when
she could still protect him). But Leoff and Mery overheard the Praefic
talking about their plans, and Leoff continued his masterpiece in
secret, even recruiting musicians who learned their true parts in
secret. When the piece was played at the Yule, he defied the Praefic,
but brought the common people to tears and passion. I thought they might
topple the Prince and the Church right there, but apparently the time is
not yet right. In the end, of course, Leoff is taken to be the first
person subjected to the cleansing.
Anne gets to meet Roderick again by the
end of this book, and it is revealed that the person she thought she
loved was actually manipulating her, until he magically became
infatuated with her. Anne, Sir Neil, Aspar, Winna and Stephen all
converge near Roderick's father's castle, where a ceremony is underway
to activate the last part of the new faneway. Anne has been developing
magical abilities over the course of these two books, but apparently
hasn't perfected them yet, because almost everybody recovers rather
quickly from whatever it is she does to them. Through a convoluted mess
that was fun to read -mainly because the characters used all of their
skills but were still outmaneuvered until the last second -they kill all
involved in that plot. I don't doubt that somebody else will be sent to
complete the job before the next book ends, though.
One part of the book I disliked
altogether was Anne's communications with "the four faiths". These are
apparently prophet-like saints who can meddle somewhat with human
affairs, but not too much, and cannot help our characters at all. They
spout prophecies like "a queen must sit on the throne", and tell Anne
that they cannot see beyond a certain path she wants to take. They are
utterly useless, as Anne says at one point. They don't serve any
purpose, except to tell us that the world might end if the dark
shadow-man ends up on the throne. I could have done without them at all.
By the end of the book, things in
Crotheny look bad, as the Church is ready to take control of the
kingdom, but Anne stands ready to ride and take her homeland by force,
with Aspar, Cazio and the others at her side. I look forward to reading