A very exciting middle, with a complicated and confusing first part,
and a dull ending.
This is a story primarily about two groups of mages, who have
been enemies in the past, and are going down that road again. It
is told from the point of view of four people, Collan, a minstrel, and
three sisters, Glenin, Sarra, and Cailet. The most interesting parts,
by far, were from Sarra's point of view.
The introduction to these characters takes a strange development,
as the first section is told entirely from Collan's point of view, and
subsequent sections are told from the sisters' points of view, as the world
changes, and as the younger sisters grow up.
Unfortunately, the author had to cram a lot of history into those
introductory chapters. The first section deals with Collan, and I
thought it could have been almost entirely dropped. There is potential
there that we haven't seen resolved yet, and I image that will have to
wait until the third book. Collan was made into a slave after his
house burned. His mother seems to have been somebody important, but
even the reference to her is cryptic. His life as a slave follows
his usefulness to his master, Scraller, and shows how ill-treated he was.
He becomes afraid of kitchens, because he was forced to run a treadmill
that worked the stoves, and once he is discovered by a musician, he is
forced to read bad pornographic poetry to his master.
As far as I can tell so far, this section sets up for two moments
in the book, and could have easily been dropped from the history of Lenfell.
This book was long enough as it was. Showing the life of the characters
from beginning to end was not really necessary. One of the moments
the section sets up was the one where he is supposed to escape without
making a scene, and Sarra tries to buy him. Because of his history
of being a slave, he causes a huge commotion. The second is a really
nice setup that sets Cailet's plans head over heels, because he is posing
as a Council Guard, and goes into a murderous rampage when he sees Scraller,
and kills him.
Collan is saved from Scraller, early in his life, by a wizard
named Gorynel Desse, who seems to know something about his heritage.
But we don't get to learn it just yet.
We then move on to the part of the book where about twenty years
make the jump in less than fifty pages. Glenin is whisked away from
Ambrai by her father. The city of Ryka is shocked when she takes
her father's name, because men have very few rights in this society.
Through the course of some very obscure reasoning and hastily written events,
we learn about the destruction of Ambrai at her father's hand. Hundreds
of Mage Guardians died there, but that is not even close to enough for
the First Minister, who controls Glenin's father. She vows from an
early age to become First Minister and rule this woman. She begins
to learn the crafts of the Malerrisi, the ancient enemies of the Mage Guardians.
Sarra and her mother are saved from the destruction of Ambrai
by Desse, again, and Sarra's mother dies giving birth to Cailet once they
reach a safe haven. Sarra is whisked away, and adopted by another
family, to protect her for the future. She grows up as a rich girl,
but with a very firm grounding in what her future will be.
Cailet grows up as a foster daughter to yet another family, and
learns a little bit about protection from Malerrisi magic. She also
falls deeply in love with her foster brother.
Events start to unfold rather rapidly from there. Once
we have leaned about the basic machinations of Ladders (ancient portals
operated by magic, which criss-cross the continent, but can be destroyed
by fire), society (with the refreshing reversal where men have no rights
and take the women's name in everything), family (of which there are so
many that dozens of pages were taken to describe the relationships between
several of them), and magic, we come across the plot to give the Malerrisi
power over the land.
In plain view, magic becomes more and more suspect, and people
become more and more afraid of it and the people who wield it. The
remote castle where the Malerrisi dwell is "destroyed", and Mage Guardians
are killed, first in secret, but then more and more openly. It is
a plot of the First Councilor and the Malerrisi to make it appear as if
the magic had disappeared, then to release some magically-caged creatures
onto the land, and offer then to protect the people, if they allow the
Malerrisi to rule them.
Fortunately, Gorynel Desse has seen the plot, and has prepared
for it. He placed Wards over Collan (who has no magic, so I am very
curious on why he is warded), Sarra (so that her magic and identity is
secret, even when confronted by her father), and Cailet (whose magic is
stronger than anybody's has been for thousands of years). Finally,
the time has come for the First Councilor to be deposed, and for the remaining
Mage Guardians to gather. As Sarra goes to Ryka court to claim an
inheritance by adoption, instead of Blood, she sends a decoy by boat, while
she travels by Ladder and gathers the Mages.
She was spectacular in that role, where she wins people's hearts,
and confronts her sister and father, even though they don't know who she
is. I could have done without the genealogies of the councilors who
voted for and against her, though. I sighed when I saw three or four
pages devoted to their families.
On the way home from Ryka, something goes wrong, and she, along
with Cailet and her cousins, Alin and Val (two wonderful people whom I
was sorry to see die later on), end up in the remains of Ambrai, along
with Desse. Through a set of very well-written circumstances, Desse
is forced to release Cailet's magic, and he incorporates all the knowledge
of several dying people into her mind, including the current leader of
the Mage Guardians, the Captal.
And it is from here that the book deteriorates. Cailet
is full of doubts, because Desse died during the transfer, and the Captal
died before he could give her all of his information. So she withdraws
from everybody who knows her, and it only gets worse as time goes on.
She has a great plan to rescue Mages from prison, however, and
this was one of the best moments in the book, for the simple reason that
it went completely wrong! They dressed up as council guards, and
deliver Sarra into prison, but while waiting for darkness in order to spring
the prisoners, Scraller comes walking down the street, slave in tow, and
Collan pulls his sword and guts the man to pieces, over and over, and over
again. But he doesn't know why.
Everybody gets separated. Cailet uses her knowledge to
Summon the remaining Mages to Ambrai, while Sarra and Collan wander in
the rain. They come to a house filled with warmth and hospitality,
and fueled by magic. They are magically clothed while asleep, awaken
to warm meals and a warm hearth, but cannot leave until they give up a
truth about themselves.
While I liked the idea of this house, I found the passages while
they were inside to be too long. Collan gives up a truth, and is
allowed to leave, but won't go without Sarra. Unfortunately, Sarra's
father takes him away, and plans to use him to get to Cailet (whom he still
doesn't know). Sarra leaves when she finally admits that she loves
Collan. They have been bickering throughout the entire book, and
it was no surprise to me that they fell in love because of it. They
kept each other on their toes.
The confrontation between Cailet and the First Councilor is extremely
disappointing. Collan is rescued, but Cailet barely does anything
at all, because the First Councilor is destroyed by the wraiths of the
souls whom she had killed. I accepted that, because I figured Cailet
had to spare her magic and strength to fight Glenin, who shows up in Ambrai
But Glenin gets past her guards way too easily. Cailet
is insistent on converting Glenin from the Dark Side -oops, I mean, her
Malerrisi ways. But Glenin sees that she is actually her sister,
and Sarra as well. She sees an extraordinary opportunity for breeding
powerful allies, and begins subverting Cailet. She magically creates
a hollow in Cailet's heart -or was it there to begin with -and fills it
with love, contempt, fantasy, and erotica. Cailet believes that she
yearns for all of this.
Fortunately for her, her father followed Glenin, and once he
sees that Cailet is actually his daughter, he sacrifices himself for her,
protecting her from Glenin. He also tells Glenin that the Mages have
won the battle, and that the populace has risen up against the government.
All the Malerrisi plans have been torn. So Glenin flees back to Malerris
Castle, where she will strike from in the next book, I'm sure, using her
as-yet-unborn son as her prime general.
Maybe the book should have ended there. I constantly complain
that there is never any follow-up to the climax at the end of a book or
movie, but now I wonder if I was wrong to want some. Time is compressed
again, as a year goes by in such a short number of pages. Events
are outlined, but not given much depth. A new government is elected,
and Sarra uses Cailet and her Mages as a defence force, much like the Jedi
Knights. They realize by the end of it that the Mages should be kept
completely separate from the government. Collan and Sarra are married,
and they give Cailet some property to start a new Mage Academy.
But Cailet keeps everybody distant. She is still hurt from
the inside, and she has physical wounds, too, from what Glenin did to her.
She is Captal, but she is not whole. I hope by the next book, she
has found herself, because until she does, she will keep making stupid
mistakes. I still can't figure out why she wouldn't tell especially
Collan and Sarra about Glenin's son, and about her terrible wounds.
The characters were completely flesh and blood, and as heroic
as they were fallible. I liked that a lot. The world was also
fleshed out considerably. In a book this long, it is no wonder that
I grew to enjoy the company of the characters. Though I never really
did like Collan.
There were some really neat magical moments, and once again,
magic was used here in a completely different way from any other fantasy.
That's what keeps fantasy novels fresh, I guess. It prevents a repetitive
feeling from series to series.
There was one intriguing reference made by a scholar to Collan
a breakfast one day, and that is in reference to people who came to Lenfell
from elsewhere. The title of the series, Exiles, also tells me that
there is something else here. I expect that Collan is not from Lenfell,
and that is why he is Warded so tightly. I expect that the people
who were exiled here long ago came because they had magic. It could
be that the original settlers were even from another planet. But
I guess I will have to wait a while to find that out. I just hope
that if it happens, it doesn't do so in the last few pages (I am reminded
of the Darksword Trilogy, where the non-magical army invades and takes
over the world in what seems like no time, and with very little explanation).
It looks to me that this book was developed in a similar way
to Tolkien's Silmarillion. In that, he developed a language, and
then a story to show how that language developed as the millennia went
by. Here, it seems to me that it started with a genealogy, and then
needed a story to develop that idea.
I think the beginning could have been divulged at a more leisurely
pace. However, the results of that history, in the middle of the
book, resulted in a terrific story. I absolutely adore the name Cailet
-I don't know why! It's just too bad that the bookends, with such
a complicated start, a disappointing climax, and a dull denouement, couldn't
keep pace with the rest.