||The two halves of this book represent
different stories with the same characters, and each one of them was
engaging and rewarding, with a complex plot and a multitude of opinions.
The climax of the book was so good that I couldn't put it down. The fact
that I predicted so much of what would happen just made it more
interesting, with the best part that I was wrong about one major point,
and I really liked the main character's solution to his problem.
What really makes this book work is the
cultures of the different realms, and how they are played upon to give
the different characters their differences. Everybody is thinking about
how to achieve power, but for their own selfish reasons, and they act on
their instincts based on their culture.
As with the last book, too many people
came to the same conclusions based on either the same or different
information at around the same time, which seems unlikely at best, at
least it didn't happen too often in this book, and at least one
character remains in the dark until late into the book.
This book is actually two books combined
into one. The two parts take place twelve years apart, and except in one
tenuous thread (and the characters, of course), are completely separate.
The book ends on a sort of cliff-hanger, which Wolfblade did not, but it
seems like a natural point of separation for what comes next.
I wonder how much of this material the
author had when writing the Demon Child Trilogy, because so much of what
is said there matches so well with this backstory. If this trilogy was
conceived later, I would expect too many inconsistencies or unlikely
scenarios, which does not happen here.
In the first part of the book, we meet
Luciena, the child of Marla's late second husband, but because of
politics, she couldn't adopt the girl until the mother died. For this,
and the promises that Luciena thinks were unfulfilled for so long, she
hates the Wolfblades. But it brings into contrast how different people
perceive promises. Marla essentially states that she waited until the
right moment to make the adoption, while Luciena thinks it should have
been done right away, and was delayed by politics.
Alija, who has been trying to get control of the Hythrun empire since
the beginning of the last book, sees Luciena as ripe for exacting her
vengeance, so she places a spell on the girl that will activate based on
a catch-phrase, and send Luciena to try and kill Damin Wolfblade.
Marla does adopt the young woman, and as
people start to arrive at Krakandar castle, things get more lively, and
no matter how much she tries to hate the Wolfblades, she can see that
they are obviously good people, and they take care of their own. I liked
the different people, especially the kids. They were easy to confuse, as
they were all natural kids, getting into mischief, and so on. They were
identified by their parents, but even that didn't make things easier,
because there is an enormous number of characters, either adult or
child. The only one who was really different was Kalan, and probably
because we got to see her from her point of view.
The scene of note occurs when the girls
want to go shopping in the market, and the boys tag along, including
Damin, because they want to sneak off and get Kalan to the Thieves Guild
to see Wrayan, the part-Harshini who sold his soul to the god of thieves
in the last book -she wants to become a wizard, and she thinks he can
help her. They succeed in escaping their guards temporarily, only to
find out that Wrayan is away, but his courtesan lover will pass the
message along when he gets back.
It is during this escapade (from which
everyone gets into a huge amount of trouble) that somebody utters the
trigger phrase, and when Luciena gets back to the castle, she sneaks
into Damin's room and tries to kill him. Of course, although he is
thirteen years old, he has earlier managed to disarm his chief lieutenant, and Luciena is no problem.
Sent to the dungeon, Luciena waits for
a death sentence, but Marla's latest husband changes her mind, thinking that
if Alija doesn't know her plan failed, then she won't try again. I find
this very difficult to believe, and I would bet that somebody like Alija
would have multiple plots going all at the same time. But she doesn't,
because she waits 12 years before hatching a new one.
Wrayan literally walks in at the last
moment to save Luciena's life (Marla would have her killed for her
attack on Damin), stripping through Alija's simple spells
and creating new barriers to protect her in the future. He was away in
Fardohnya to help Brak the half-breed rescue a young wizard from that
magic-fearing society. The wizard happens to be Luciena's cousin, and he
won't be as powerful as Wrayan, but he did manage to kill a man by
pulling an anvil through a wall. Brak is in pain because he was forced
to kill the king of the Harshini, because of course the king was raping
a Medalonian woman to create the Demon Child, who we will only get to
meet in Medalon. The adventure was quite exciting and the characters so
rich and interesting, that it was really a pleasure to read this part of
And twelve years later, Alija
starts a plague in Hythria, guiding a plague-ridden outlander to the
spot where Damin, at twenty-five years old, is partying. Within a few
months, so many people are dead, including many of the Warlords. The
interesting thing here is that most Warlords have young children, and
they cannot become warlords themselves until they reach thirty years
old, Damin included. So as one Warlord falls to the plague after
another, the Sorcerer's Collective -under Alija's control- takes control
of each of Hythria's provinces! When she has a majority, she can deny
even Damin his birthright!
While the first part of this book was
about Marla, this part was about Damin as an adult. His chief conflict
comes in the form of his uncle Mahkas, who in the last book orchestrated
the deaths of his siblings and Damin's father, and has so far kept it
completely under wraps, though he is going crazy as a result of it.
It was very interesting to get inside
Mahkas' head as he finds ways to justify everything he does to himself,
to the point where he is completely as a loss to understand why Damin
wants to kill him at the end of the book! He believes his only daughter
is the perfect match to become Damin's princess, though the cousins want
nothing to do with each other romantically. Leila and Damin's
foster-brother Starros, however, have become lovers, something Damin
encourages. But Mahkas is one of those high-born people who thinks
low-born people should not intermix with the high-born, and is always
trying to put the young man in his place. When he finally does discover
their relationship, he snaps completely, sending Starros to be whipped
day after day after day, by himself, of course. He also whips Leila
once, and seals her in her room naked with no food.
When he finally convinces her that
Starros is dead, she becomes peaceful, and Mahkas thought she was
finally coming to terms with her errors, when actually she was going to
take a nice bath all alone and kill herself. I could see all of this
coming from the moment Damin left the castle to go rounding up
Medalonian cattle. It was like watching a train wreck, knowing I
couldn't do anything about it. But it was so well written, that even
though I could pin down exactly what was going to come next (with one
exception), I enjoyed every moment of it, to the point where I couldn't
put the book down!
First there was the inevitable
discovery. When the lovers were separated, I knew that Starros would be
whipped to within an inch of his life, and I didn't know if he would
survive (by the end of the book, we still don't know, but it looks like
Damin has promised the young man's soul to the gods, and look how messed
up Wrayan is after he did that...). I could follow Leila's train of
thought as if I was writing the novel, and could tell the moment she
asked to be alone that she would kill herself. Kalan seemed to know it,
as well, but only subconsciously, and she didn't heed the warning her
heart gave her.
With Damin arriving back at the castle
the same day, his reaction was also inevitable. When he sees Starros,
his fury erupts. When he finds out about Leila, though Mahkas doesn't
yet know, he becomes silently lethal, with the fury controlling every
part of him. Although it would be completely satisfying for Damin to
kill his uncle at this point, he can't do it, politically, or else Alija
will gain control of too many provinces -she is only one away at this
point. Practically, he is forced to keep Mahkas alive. But I really
thought the author would have his fury take him over so much that he
would go down that path, killing his uncle and giving Alija control. But
Luciena's brother Rorin, the wizard, keeps interfering magically and
with his words. All he needs to say is "one Warlord short", and Damin
realizes the danger he is in. He ends up tearing a hole in his uncle's
throat anyway, and leaving him one step from death, though he recovers
There are other plots
in this part of the novel, the main one of course being the spread of
the plague from province to province, and how Damin finds a way to
control it and prevent its spread to Krakandar by decreasing the rat
population (he then feeds this information to his mother and the other
provinces). Luciena and her husband and kids are on the sea to Fardohnya,
where King Hablet plans to use them for his own purposes. But his first
daughter, the sprightly Adrina, who will end up marrying Damin in
Harshini, tells them about the plot and they escape through Medalon to
Krakandar. Damin's first mission to gather cattle from Medalon was
actually quite fun, especially his fear at jumping a huge ravine to get
into the neighboring state.
And then there is Alija, who can't read
the Wolfblade family's minds, or when she does, she thinks they are all
thinking mundane thoughts because of the protective Harshini shield
Wrayan has put over their minds all these years. She thinks Damin is an
idiot who only likes to party -actually, everyone thinks this, because he
is so good at hiding his true self, and everyone who gets close to him
suddenly realizes what a dangerous man he has become. But when the
plague takes Marla's third husband, a trader who specializes in
information as much as spices, Alija tends to the man, still pretending
to be Marla's friend, even though Marla is simply biding her time -the
two women secretly loathe each other. Alija can't resist trying to get
inside Ruxton's mind, but as he dies, the shield evaporates and she
gains all of his knowledge, of everything Marla knows and has kept
secret from her, and how much she has been duped over the last
twenty-five years. It really does make Alija look like a fool, the more
because she hasn't tried to kill Damin more than twice in that time.
But Alija goes one step further. She
buys a slave that looks remarkably like Elezar's deceased brother.
Marla's trusted courtesan is lured into a trap where it doesn't matter if
the man is his brother or not, he can't allow him to be tortured with
devices that still haunt the dwarf's nightmares, twenty-five years
later -we saw Elezar's brother in the opening scenes of Woldblade. So he confesses everything that Marla knows, confirming what Alija found inside Ruxton's dying mind, and then more still.
In the end, Elezar kills himself after
confessing to Marla how he betrayed her, and both Marla and Alija start
to plan for the new political game, in which they are on a much more
level footing with respect to what they know about each others'
personalities and ambitions.
This book corrected what I considered a
serious annoyance in Marla's character. In Wolfblade, I found her
naiveté to be too extreme, and she managed to blunder her way through
everything, even when she thought she was playing everyone to her tune.
In this book, she goes to the other extreme, ready to do anything for
her family, born by her or adopted into her family. I like this Marla
much better, and her son Damin also, especially when he reveals how much
he knows about politics and things that have to be done.
The next book promises to bring war to
Hythria, as King Hablet is planning to take advantage of the sudden drop
in Hythrun soldiers due to the plague, and invade. Damin's solution to
two major problems, who will lead the Hythrun army and how to get rid of
his uncle, is ingenious, I think. Nobody expects the perverted Lernen to
lead the troops into battle, but Damin can't do it until he turns 30. So
he asks his uncle to drop the legal age to 25! With this change coming
into effect (presumably early in the next book), he will become a
warlord in his own right (as will several people whose provinces are
currently under the control of the Sorcerer's Collective), and he can
lead the army into battle. I can't wait for this story to continue.