A very strong outing, with a good battle at the end, and incredible
character development. The only real problem was the length of the
book. It got tiring to know that even after a major event, I had to wait
20-30 pages before I could know the real outcome. But consequences
abound, and I can't fault that!
Not a heck of a lot happened through most of this book. The major
events are covered in great detail, and (unfortunately, sometimes) so is
everyday life. But the length of the book also has a very strong upside
to it: the reader gets to know the characters very well, including their
probable reactions when things happen.
Ironically enough, Sarra is barely featured as a main character. She
makes numerous appearances as the years pass, but the book was mostly from the
point of view of Collan, Cailet, and the twins, Mikel and Taigan. Since
Sarra was the one I liked the best in The Ruins of
Ambrai, I was sort of
disappointed in her lack of coverage. But this book was mostly about
Cailet, and she turned from being so uncertain that it was difficult to read
from her point of view in the last book, to being such a strong and interesting character, who
still had doubts, but who constantly professed "let it all play
out", and see where events lead.
The book opens very soon after the end of the last book. Cailet is
still living in Ryka, where Sarra is on the political council. I was
hooked from the very beginning, because it hinted at a huge political
struggle, and this covered most of the first part of the book. Cailet
overhears some powerful women in the gardens talking about having her killed
(not knowing she was there, of course). She is asked to remove some
haunting wards (spells) from the chambers that the former first Councilor left
behind, when nobody knew that she was mageborn. While doing this, she
encounters some really wild visions, of past, present and future, and ends up
killing the fetus Sarra carries. It turns out for the best, however,
because this child would have been tainted by Anniyas, and probably would have
married Glenin's son and ruled the world. The last taint of Anniyas is
removed when Cailet finds out about a loose wraith roaming from the Haunted
Woods where evil wraiths are kept bound. Anniyas' wraith was so strong
that she killed the other evil wraiths, consumed their magic, and was almost able to
escape. Cailet, learning from her past, wards the woods again without
fighting the wraith. Later, she is attacked and nearly killed in an
assassination attempt that kills one of the mages we got to know quite well in
the last book. I was shocked. But I loved the way Cailet strode
into Ryka Court later and denounced the people she knew were responsible.
Years pass, and Sarra delivers twins. Collan raises them, because
Sarra is so busy getting laws changed, giving men more and more rights.
By the time her children are grown up, she has missed their
Glenin makes several appearances, but nothing really worth note, except as
to how the others react to her. When the twins were young, she tried to
kidnap them, using her son as a decoy to lure Collan away. She fails,
though, when the twins get away from her and stay hidden as Collan comes to
their rescue. Her accomplice ends up tearing her velvet ladder.
As far as the ladder is concerned, I was under the impression from the last
book that nobody had the skill to make ordinary ladders anymore, and that the
velvet, portable ladder was even more difficult. But after years of
spells, Glenin is able to make one for use in the last few chapters.
Inconsistent? Or was I mistaken?
The fact that his children were able to get away from Glenin on their own
sends Collan into a midlife crisis. They don't need him any more. He ends
up focusing on a woman who beats her husband, even to the point of
blackmailing her into selling some of her property to some friends. The
man nearly dies from the beating he received after Collan threatened the
woman. But the real problem is that Collan has nothing important to do
on his own, now that the kids are growing up. So Sarra suggests, on
Cailet's behalf, that he could start up an "information" service,
called the Minstrelsy, where his traveling minstrels would report any
suspicious gossip or information they received. Thus many of Glenin's
Malerrisi who were hidden throughout Lenfell were uncovered. And Lenfell
enjoyed years of prosperity. For we learn for what is really the first
time the fundamental difference between the Mage Guardians and the Malerrisi,
and why they cannot live together. Malerrisi believe that people cannot
know what is good for them, so they must be enslaved, told what to do, how to
live their lives for the better good (the greater good of whom is a question
Cailet asks often). The Mage Guardian philosophy is, as Cailet says, to
let it all play out, and act in defense only, react to the threat, and not act
to prevent the threat in the first place.
Years later, when the twins are seventeen, Glenin tries to kidnap the twins
again, but this
time Cailet's warding surrounding their magic pushes her back, and all the
mageborns in the theatre where they sat fought Glenin's magic, and she
was forced to flee. Cailet explains that it is because Taigan is of
breeding age now, and Glenin wants offspring between the cousins. So
Sarra, scared out of her wits, marches them off to Cailet, and then, when the
twins are safe, she has a crisis of her own, wondering how she missed their
entire childhood. She wonders if she should have Cailet remove the wards
surrounding her magic, pent up for her entire life now. At one point,
Glenin observes that the magic will die in a person if it is warded all her
life, but by the end, Sarra embraces it, and wants Cailet to teach her.
Again, did I miss something?
For Cailet started a new Mage Academy, and gathered to her all mageborns
not under Glenin's control, and taught them. She did let everything play
itself out, and the mages learned in their own time, in their own way.
She had each student built part of a wall, the same as her old teacher taught
her to build a wall around her thoughts using a physical wall as a
metaphor. And within months of each other, she was presented with two
absolutely gorgeous young men as prentices. What is curious about this
is that she knows one of them is Glenin's son.
Josselin and Jored come from different circumstances, but have strangely
similar backgrounds, and the author does a
terrific job of making the reader wonder, up until the moment he is
revealed. Josselin was under contract to the same woman whom Collan
blackmailed years earlier for marriage. When they discover he is
mageborn, he gets to go to Mage Hall to train. But both Collan and Mikel
think he might be a Malerrisi, based on what they do or don't remember about
certain messengers. And when someone talks about Josselin to Glenin, she
smiles knowingly. Josselin is always there to protect the Captal (Cailet),
which makes us wonder if he is trying to get her to trust him. He leaves
early on the night Cailet's life is torn apart, giving him the opportunity,
and if he was Glenin's son, the motive for what happened. And he refused
to give Cailet back her sword, making us wonder how he got a hold of it in the
first place. But he seemed too sincere to be a Malerrisi. We were
introduced to Glenin's son early on, and he was pure evil. I had trouble
with the way he would have had to have a complete turnaround, giving heartfelt
fear and praise, laughter and so on. I would have had a lot of trouble
accepting that he was the traitor, because of the complete but fake turnaround
he would have had to make in his personality. But all my gut feelings, manipulated
by the author, pointed to him.
Jored, too, was suspicious, but less time was spent developing him, so I
was constantly second-guessing myself. All the signs pointed to him as
the traitor, but I constantly refused to believe it, because it didn't feel
right. But it made sense. He courted Taigan, to whom Glenin wanted
to breed her son, he made a map of Mage hall, so he would know exactly how
best to destroy it, and he was nowhere near as nice and friendly as Josselin
was to the people around him; mostly he kept to himself, acting shy. But I still thought
Joss was the traitor. And
even with Cailet's battle globe hung between them, I didn't change my mind,
until Jored stepped to Glenin's side and revealed himself. I don't
understand why Cailet didn't let Taigan kill him when she had the
chance. She said it would scar the young woman for life, but Taigan may be forced to kill in the
future. Getting the first
trauma over with early would be better, I think. I wonder if Taigan will
end up killing him in the final book...
When Josselin danced with Cailet under their masks the night of the
anonymous celebration, I was really, really worried. He was up close to
her, and she didn't ward any protection. And then he disappeared back
towards Mage Hall. Jored spent all of that night courting Taigan.
Mikel courted another young woman, with whom he enjoyed love- and lust-making
for the first time. Later, when Cailet sits in the grove of trees,
wondering which man is Glenin's son (for she knows one of them must be), her
magic calls her back to Mage Hall in a panic. The place she has spent
the last twenty years creating, building from scratch, making into an
institution, was burning, ignited by well-placed exploding mage globes.
Sabotaged by one of the two young men, and done in a really exacting
fashion. The Malerris have no use for the old, the infirm, or the
children who may or may not be mageborn, nor with the non-mageborn
servants. So those places were completely destroyed, and Cailet ended up
with more dead than alive.
I was completely shocked, and even enraged by this! Everything that
Cailet had done in the last twenty years was destroyed!
Everything! Even some of the most important mages were killed.
People we knew almost from the very beginning of the first
book! By the
end of the book I was able to accept it, but until then, I was nearly as livid
as Cailet was. Of course, she has magic, and it threatened to go
wild. It took all the concentration of all the remaining mages to keep
her under control. At least her healer mage, one of the oldest and best,
with knowledge of the old days, still lived, and was able to heal her.
But Josselin kept possession of her sword, and she nearly destroyed him to get
it back until she was subdued by Taigan and Mikel.
She ends up in Ryka Court, for a trial against Sarra and Collan for
blackmail (I knew this would come back to haunt them), and an appearance by
Glenin. Glenin now has everybody where she wants them, and she goes in for the
kill. The lawsuit is there only to unbalance everybody, and we never get
to know the result. Because
Glenin goes after Cailet, Sarra and Collan. Collan she kills, and I
wonder what exactly the point was. She tries to stretch out his torture,
but he takes part of her magic and kills himself. His memories are
revealed to us in a way that frustrates more than anything else. He
knows why his memories were warded just as he dies, and he understands
everything, but we do not. Now that he is dead, how are we going to find
To deal with Sarra, Glenin finally reveals to the council that they have the same
parents. Now that the world knows, they are less angry with her for
lying to them as they are for her being a mageborn and holding political
office, forbidden since before remembered history. She is
arrested. It is also revealed that Cailet is an Ambrai as well!
Glenin gets all of her punches in, and everybody is infuriated. The
twins, who knew nothing of their heritage, are stunned. As Sarra and
Cailet are getting ready to escape, Glenin comes into her chambers with Joss and Jored.
And there is a magical battle that must be read twice to understand all that
is happening. It is a wonderful battle. The first time, I rushed
through it, wanting to get at the results. The second time, I understood
much better what was happening. Although Jored escapes because Cailet
won't let Taigan kill him, Glenin is killed, which was a big shock to
me. It told me that nothing, absolutely nothing, was sacred. The
main characters are supposed to survive all the way through a trilogy.
But here were Collan and Glenin dead!
Escaping with Glenin's newly made velvet ladder, Cailet takes everybody to
Scraller's Fief, the place where Collan grew up, and where nobody would even
think to look for them. It is a good place to regroup, though many mages
will not trust Cailet as Captal anymore, because she lied about her
identity. The Malerissi had invested so much money in Lenfell banks
early in the book, waiting for the chance to bring the world to its knees by
creating a cash shortage by withdrawing it all at once. Now, it is not
clear if they have come out into the open, or if they are still hiding, but
the money is gone. And one thing is very clear: the world is in chaos, Cailet and Sarra are
exiles, and I have no idea where this trilogy is going!
I do have one thought about the future, however. The year 1000 is
approaching, and I think that will prove to be significant. Maybe
otherworldly travelers will come to check on the magic-users. Maybe
something else at the millennium. But I think it will be
I also have questions about the wards, and how they are used. And I
think the author is trying to keep things rather unclear on purpose. It
is said that family can not affect family with wards. But does that
include only the wards on physical things? Cailet was able to easily
ward Mikel and Taigan's magic, so that even Glenin couldn't get through
them. There were several other examples of this as well. There is
another point where Cailet explains how Mikel and Taigan got through the wards
to her private chambers on the night of the fire. As family, they could
pass through her wards, but the room was also warded by another of the
mages. She says that his wards were fading because he was dead at that
point, but that has never stopped any wards before. For example, Anniyas'
wards at the beginning of the book, or Desse's wards around Sarra's magic and
Collan's memories. It seems to me like a huge contradiction to muddle
the waters and allow things to happen at the end of the book. A bit
sloppy, I think.
I absolutely loved Cailet in this book, and it is revealed that Josselin is
also in love with her (and I quite like that idea, too, and it explains the
dance!). She has a
nasty sense of humor when teaching her students about recognizing wards, with
her expedition into the forest where they encounter simply and playful wards
like "I have an consistent itch", and "I am stark
naked". It is never explained who laid the wards that did not
belong to her or Joss, but it could have been leftovers from previous
"lectures". Cailet is constantly talking with Gorynel Desse
inside her head. He became part of her mind when he died making her
Captal, and they had the most intriguing conversations! And the shock to
both of them when they learn that Josselin is his grandson is even
better! I wondered if Collan was also related to Desse, but now I doubt
I liked the way the author reviewed past events in this book. Instead
of giving a long-winded summary of past events, breaking suddenly into the
current story, she gave it piecemeal, as it became relevant. And she
didn't give the backstory in detail, letting our own memories draw the events
forth from the previous book, or even six hundred pages earlier!
The last thing I want to comment on is one of the best-written parts of the
book. The sex scenes featuring Sarra and Collan were neither vulgar nor gratuitous.
In fact, they were mostly about feelings and attitudes, and there were barely
any "phrases" that would give them away as sex scenes. Mostly,
actions were implied, which if anything, made them even more erotic.
Sarra and Collan could not seem to get enough of each other. Sometimes
it was a seduction based on a purpose (like forgiveness or manipulation), and
sometimes it was just there to show how they missed each other. It was
great either way. Even when describing Mikel's first experience, it was
gratifying to see him thinking it through. To lose the girl moments
later in the fire was a real heartbreaker.
I think that's enough for this book! This is a very long review, but
it was also an extremely long book, and even though not much happened for long
stretches at a time, there was enough character development in those parts
that it made me think about a lot of things. With a book this size,
even if it is not great, the characters stay with me for long after, because I
have been with them for all this time. With a good book, the characters
stay even longer.
There were things that I thought were probably used as cheats for the
ending based on knowledge that we were given earlier in the book, or in the
previous book, but they didn't really detract from the story. The
uncertainty in Glenin's son was enough to keep me very interested through the
latter part of the book even when other things were going on. And the
characters, especially Cailet, grew so nicely that I really enjoyed reading
it. It certainly could have been cut down, chopping parts that were
important, but not integral, to the characters. And again, I was not
really interested in hearing about the ancestors back four generations for
every character we meet. But the story was better than good, and the
author seemed to correct what went wrong in the last book. So I am
anxiously awaiting the final book in the trilogy, The Captal's Tower, which, according to Rawn's
website, has not even been submitted to the publisher yet!