THE BLOOD KNIGHTA novel by Greg Keyes
(2006, Del Rey)
Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, book 3
As Anne returns to claim her throne from her undead uncle, the Briar King's servants take Stephen to perform a mysterious task.
-- First reading (hardcover)
This book was a story of misinformation, incomplete information, and about people having information that others don't -or at least thinking they do. When the information they think they had proves to be not so secret after all, plans take unexpected turns.Spoiler review:
While in The Briar King there were several plotlines that seemed independent and were kept so, The Charnel Prince brought them together, at least somewhat. Aspar and Stephen met up with Sir Neil, who met finally found Anne, Austra and Cazio. Dead Prince Robert took the throne and imprisoned the former Queen, Muriele.
This book quickly separates the groups again. After an attack left Anne and Austra captured, Cazio, Neil and the others go after her. But she escapes her captors using the power of an evil witch who is somehow harboring inside her. Anne then meets up with her Aunt, who promises to help her try and regain the throne of Crotheny.
Cazio's personal journey starts by giving him doubts about his capabilities after Anne is captured from right beside him. He then realizes that although he loves being a dessarator, and the art of the fight, when dealing with wartime situations, he has to compromise between the art of fighting and the art of not getting killed by the others around him. He gets some cool fight scenes, like when he runs after Anne's attempted assassin in the nude and meets his match at swordplay, and the fight on the wall, which felt like the Prince of Persia video game. He also gets to realize that he has fallen in love -not with Anne, but with Austra, to his great surprise (hence being nude when he was needed most).
Sir Neil seems doomed to failure and guilt. He is plagued by guilt about falling in love with the sea-woman in the last book (instead of Fastia, whom he thought was the love of his life, and whom he is still trying to avenge). He feels guilty, like Cazio, of not protecting Anne when she was captured. He feels guilty about letting Robert goad him into a fight and losing his feysword -and Robert himself- because of it. So he throws himself into the attack on Elsen castle, and I really thought his part in the story was over as he lay dying seeing the ships of his homeland on the water. But he survived, for the next fight... For a soldier, Neil thinks and philosophizes way too much. So much that he can't really fight well when he is called on for the most important acts.
As for Anne, she is still seeing visions based around the Faiths, but she is beginning to take more control. So many people want to control her, from the invisible Faiths, her cousin General Artwair, and many other unknowns. The faiths even tried to separate her from her companions (and kill them in the process) because she kept getting distracted trying to keep them safe! At least Robert only wants to kill her. One of the visions she has comes from the last Skasloi, the one being kept in the dungeon under Elsen. He shows her the tunnel system that can only be remembered by women. She uses those to get into the castle, but doesn't realize that the undead Robert can also remember the passages, which is something the readers know and are powerless to do anything about. So she is trapped in the dungeons with the Skasloi and another undead woman, Alis Berry, former mistress of the King, aide to Muriele, and whom Robert poisoned. But since he broke the law of death by living again, Alis managed to do it also.
Up until the last forty pages, I thought this book was the conclusion to a trilogy. As the climax came, it was obviously the climax of the book, but I could easily see that there was no way the author could possibly wrap up the whole story in the remaining pages. And because I have grown to like these characters, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there is a fourth book (at least) in the series.
In order to survive, Anne must free the Skasloi. Because of that, the Sefry of Elsen throw their support behind Anne, and she escapes. But Robert also escapes, and is obviously off to join his allies in Hansa and the Church. He is also in possession of a powerful magical musical piece that was composed for him by Leoff, who wrote the amazing magical musical that ended the last book with Robert in a fury. Robert suspiciously gave Leoff another chance to redeem himself, knowing full well that Leoff would try to kill him. Leoff finds an obscure book which uses forbidden musical scores that, if properly written and performed, can kill all who hear it. He does write the piece, and has it performed privately for Robert and a few of his brutes. But Leoff is lacking a certain piece of information: that Robert is already dead, and cannot be killed in the conventional sense. So Robert escapes with this music, which he will undoubtedly try to use against Anne in the future.
In the Forest, Stephen is captured by the servants of the Briar King. Aspar and Winna are sent by Anne to search for him. They end up following a giant woorm, which is sort of a wingless dragon, and which leave a poisonous trail like the greffyn did in the first book. The distinction between who is good and who is bad becomes clearer here, though we don't want to see either side win, because the bad guys (who brought the woorm into the world) would enslave humanity, while the good guys (the Briar King and his servants) would exterminate humanity because humans are making the world sick.
Winna and Ehawk become very sick because of the woorm, which sends Aspar in search of a cure. He finds the source of the woorm and all the other evil creatures, but the Sarnwood Witch and her offspring are as mysterious as anything else in these books!
Stephen is apparently the key to either side, as he is supposed to take the Throne of the faneway that Virgenya apparently walked before revolting against the Skasloi. He is taken by the slinders of the Briar King, through a Sefry city, back to the monastery in D'Ef. I swear the characters in this book spend their time going back and forth across the same land, and every time they do, it's in worse shape than previously. He makes his way through the mountains to where Virgenya's faneway is supposed to be, and discovers the Sefry guarding it. His arch-nemesis the Prefec Hespero is also marching on the mountain to take the Throne for himself. Suddenly the woorm is fighting for Stephen against Hespero, as does Fend (the man who killed Asper's first wife and who is Asper's nemesis). This was a puzzling moment in the book, until we learn that Fend drank the blood of the dead woorm after the fight, thus becoming the Blood Knight of the title. For Aspar arrived at the same time, and blew the horn once again that called the Briar King, who fought the woorm, and Aspar killed the thing with his magical arrow. The problem is that after drinking the woorm's blood, Fend used the same arrow to kill the Briar King. That was quite a shock, and nobody knows what it really portends.
The book ends this way, without Stephen even knowing that Aspar was in the area. Aspar's horse is now dead, and Aspar goes with Leysha, the Sefry with whom he appeared to have some sort of relationship, and over whom Winna is jealous. The major revelation in this book was that the Sefry are actually descended from the Skasloi, common people who changed their appearance permanently (or so it appears). It is common knowledge to some of the Sefry, but not others. Only Aspar knows this at the point. It casts doubt on why the Sefry are guarding Virgenya's faneway and are helping Stephen.
So we wait for the next book, which will undoubtedly raise more mysteries, and hopefully solve others. Anne is an inexperienced commander, but has lots of support. The last Skasloi apparently has told the Sefry to help her, too, and has promised to mend the law of death. How honorable is this creature, who has been kept prisoner for millennia? Stephen is studying Virgenya's faneway, and will probably use it. Aspar will undoubtedly continue to study the forest and try to save it. And somehow, after three books, we still don't know the motivations of the bad guys! Talk about suspense.
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