THE HIGH KING'S TOMBA novel by Kristen Britain
(2007, Daw books)
Green Rider, book 3
A young woman is hunted as she attempts the deliver the message of a dead rider to the king before an assassination attempt.
-- First reading (paperback)
As with First Rider's Call last year, I read this book while in the UK, often surrounded by castle ruins or medieval grounds. There is something cool about reading a medieval fantasy book in these surroundings that makes it feel even more real. The book wasn't fantastic, but it was consistent, and consistently good, so that I continued to return to it eagerly night after night.Spoiler review:
In this book, Karigan is happy to get out on the road, to get away from the wedding festivities, King Zachary, and Lady Estora, so she won't have to face any of the tumultuous feelings. So the King and Captain Mapstone send her on a three-fold mission, which will land her in exactly the right place at exactly the right time for a rescue late in the novel. That's the kind of planning I like, though the journey was fairly long and uneventful. Still, it had some interesting (though minimal) character work, and Karigan had time to learn new things about herself and her father (whom she no longer worships, I believe). She is forced to travel with Fergal, a new Rider whose father slaughtered horses for a living. So Fergal treats his horse with no respect at all, which grates on Karigan's nerves, of course. Their relationship gets worse the more self-centered we see Fergal is, but we also learn that he was never taught how to behave properly, because his father was not a nice person. He is impatient, especially with the desire for his Rider gift to show itself -so much that he throws himself into a freezing river, trying to make it awaken through danger.
That act leaves Fergal and Karigan in the care of a brothel, because they are both suffering hypothermia after Karigan rescues him, and the brothel is owned by the harbor-master's wife. It's funny to see Karigan squirm under the care of a female whose leanings are towards other females (Trudy), and Kerigan's reaction to Fergal when he admits he took advantage of their lodging. But this is also where she learns about her father, who occasionally visits that brothel, too (her mother died years ago) -and she is not happy, though after thinking it through, she realizes her feelings are not entirely logical.
Their first mission is to secure horses for the new Riders, at the Frost ranch. There, Damian Frost and his sons take the two Riders to see the fields where the semi-sentient Rider horses are born. And it his here that Karigan first sees Salvistar, steed of the god of the dead, who magically touches some of the horses. They think between that touch and the leftover magic from the Long War, the Rider horses are very special and attuned to their riders' wishes. It is here that Fergal meets the horse that will eventually become his, and it touches him in a way that Karigan couldn't. This is his turning point, and he starts to develop an affinity for his duty and horse.
Their second mission is to find a book that might help rebuild the breach in the D'Yer wall. So she travels to her old school, which has an impressive library, only to find the headmaster away. He is a sort of minstrel, after all. But his daughter is Karigan's best friend, so they spend a lot of time talking. But she arrives after a theft from the library, of a book used for translation between old Sacoridian and the current language. So everybody is on edge. But she gets to train again with her old swordmaster, which was fun, and thwarts a strange entry into her friend's house that turns out to be the headmaster. It is meant to simulate another break-and-entry and theft, but was very odd, I think, that he snuck into his house, leaving the door open wide and perusing his bookshelf in his coat, hat and boots. This was one of a few overly-dramatic passages in the novel.
They don't find the book they're looking for, so they go on to their third mission, which was to search for a missing Rider whose ability was to make others think she is completely trustworthy and become the primary aide to the new Lord Mirwell, son of the man who tried to overthrow King Zachary back in Green Rider. The Lord, however, was the bully she beat up before Green Rider started, and his aides are his old bullies from school. Karigan isn't welcome there, and made to wait, and Mirwell puts up an aristocratic bearing and tries to humiliate her. But in private, he sends her a note telling her to go to the crossroads at dawn, where she will find something interesting...
Prepared for a trap, she and Fergal go early, and find Lady Estora, amid her captors. For she was kidnapped in an attempt to draw as many Weapons out of the palace as possible, but implying that she was going to be tortured or held for ransom. The King and Estora's father are furious, so they do send out all those Weapons, which leaves the palace tombs almost defenseless. For this is what Second Empire wants. They don't really care about Estora. They send a man to raid the house of two magical ladies (the strange and naive ones who helped Karigan at the beginning of Green Rider) to find another magical book, the one that tells how the D'Yer wall was built, then to the tombs, which is the only place the book can be read. For they want the book to destroy the wall.
Here enters a strange character named Lord Amberhill, cousin to the King. He pretends to be an old thief of fancy who robs women of the jewelry (and for some, their virtue -all willingly). He also takes on odd jobs, like robbing a museum where Karigan is visiting in a gown sent by her father who is trying to marry her off. She fights him for the scroll (a Second Empire scroll), but fails, which causes armsmaster Drent to stop teaching her, which leads to a hilarious scene where she dresses up in a gown and tells him to teach her how to fight in that -or else he is just a bad teacher!
Amberhill agrees to help kidnap Lady Estora, thinking it is a romantic ransom-kidnapping. But things go horribly wrong, and his mentor is killed, while Estora ends up riding west with a bunch of thugs. Amberhill gives chase, and meets up with the pirates who escaped the ship-in-a-bottle when the strange magical ladies' house was destroyed by the Second Empire agent (these women are just very strange). He gains a fortune there, as well as a strange ring whose responsibility he does not yet understand. He only catches up with the thugs after Karigan rescues the Lady and has taken her place.
Karigan, the Weapons, and Amberhill pretty much converge all at the same time, in which Amberhill rescues Karigan, but almost gets himself killed. Karigan finds the missing Rider, Beryl, who takes a prisoner who knows much about Second Empire and "grandmother", the witch who leads them. When Karigan is healed from the beating she took after being captured, she learns about the book and what Second Empire plans to do in the High King's Tomb, and she sees Salvistar again, who takes her across magical pathways all the way back to the castle. I liked this part, and would have continued liking it if it wasn't used too often. The first time (here) was unusual and enjoyable. The second time felt too much like the gods' interference with the world, without wanting to give a direct hand.
For with Salvistar's help, Karigan reaches the tombs ahead of everybody else (and the Weapons at the palace simply shake their heads, not entirely surprised...). Single-handedly, she defeats the trio sent to read the book, pretending she is a ghost, and so on, which was pretty fun. But the magical sphere Grandmother gave to one of the men explodes, causing a rift in the mountain under the tombs (and castle), which releases demons, spirits and all sorts of other things from the underworld. The god of death takes Karigan as his avatar, in order to heal the breach and put everything back in its place, even turning back time to the moment before it occurred. The unfortunate part, I think, is that he erased Karigan's memory of the event (for which I see no reason -it's not as if she would talk about it).
The other storyline, which felt much more like filler, took place at the magical wall that holds evil at bay. Alton can't enter the wall, because the spirits that inhabit it do not trust him, after what he did in the last book. So Dale (who was seriously injured by the wild magical creatures from the Blackveil last book), takes his place. She learns nothing for the first half of the book, at least, when she finally decides to talk about the construction of the wall. Here we get an account from the wall-keeper, Merdigan, about the end of the Long War, and how the wizards tried to keep neutral in the struggle, holding to their pacifist ideals, and being banished to isolation for doing so. When the war was over, they were brought back, but people were so angry at magic that the wizards were set upon by angry mobs, so they decided to sacrifice themselves to keeping the wall safe, guarding the thousands of sacrifices who put their magic into the wall by dying for it.
Then Merdigan goes off in search of the other guardians in the other towers, and when they arrive, they party together, waiting for Merdigan to come back. Dale is frustrated, and so is the reader, because it takes a long time for her to decide to shame them into searching for a way to help the wall. It is only when Merdigan returns, and Grandmother turns her eight followers invisible and shatters the former breach (along with a sizable portion close to the breach), that Alton is let back in, and he gets to sing the wall a healing song, which at least prevents it from falling apart on the spot.
So that means Dale didn't actually do anything, because the wizard incarnations were focused on abstract equations, when all they needed to do was listen to the song and maybe teach it to her or Alton. Of course, there is nothing any of them can do for the breached section, and maybe something they thought of would help, there, in the future.
So we are now waiting for winter to pass, and spring to arrive, when Grandmother plans to act, the King will be married, and presumably Mornhaven will return (it's a shame if it turns out Karigan only brought him less than a year into the future, when her other travels took her thousands of years). Despite the weaknesses of the book, including a long, drawn-out plot that gave only a little character or story work, and some writing style in places which didn't seem quite up to the strength of the rest, I quite enjoy going to this world. People do still roll their eyes a little too often, and many events occur "just as" the character was about to give up on anything happening. The description, which can also seem a little long-winded at times, gives a good feel for everything in it. It is enjoyable at a leisurely pace, and I liked coming back again and again, night after night. I also look forward to the next book in the series.
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