A very excellent story, told with drama, mystery, good characterization,
and adventure. This is so far the best Narnia book by far. It had a
purpose, the characters reacted to situations, but forced decisions of
their own, as well. Three of the main characters, except for one of the
horses, had strong personalities, though all knew the right thing to do
in all situations. Even when they were observing global events, like the
planned attack on Narnia, Susan’s planned escape, and the battle at the
end, it was gripping enough that it didn’t feel like simple exposition.
I’m now hoping the rest of the series is more like this.
For the first time in Narnia, I wanted to return to the story night
after night. It was engaging, and characters who were distinct and who
It’s obvious that Calormene isn’t a very nice place to
live. Shasta was adopted by his father when he found a boat with the
baby near shore, and has worked him near to death ever since, and is now
willing to sell him to one of the Princes of Calormene. Aravis runs away
when her father forces her to marry another Calormene Prince. Susan and
Edmund need to create a distraction so they can get to the docks and
sail away before the son of the Tisroc forces her to marry him.
Bree, who was the warhorse of the Prince Shasta was being sold to,
engages in conversation with Shasta, and convinces him to escape to
Narnia. They meet up with Aravis and her talking horse, Hwin, after
being chased by lions. It’s obvious that the Lion must be Aslan, which
is the only interference I don’t like in the story. Aslan also
interferes by teaching Aravis a lesson later on, scratching her back
with his claws, as retribution for the punishment her maid suffered so
she could escape. It’s a religious message that comes out of nowhere,
and isn’t relevant to the story.
As the first part of the
book is their journey to the capital city of Tashbaan, it’s about
getting to know them. The second part takes place as they cross Tashbaan,
and Shasta and Aravis are separated. Shasta ends up with Susan and
Edmund, learning about the prince’s obsession with Susan, and how they
plan to create a great distraction with a feast, to get to their ship
and sail away. They also let slip a secret path to Archenland and then
to Narnia, across the desert. While Shasta and Aravis end up taking that
path, it seems that Rabadash also knew about it, because he didn’t take
his troops through the oasis as the dwarf said he would, and which would
have caused half his army to die on the journey.
Aravis meets up
with a friend of hers in the convoy in the main street of Tashbaan, who
is the epitome of superficiality. She keeps getting distracted while
agreeing to help Aravis, and I was very surprised that she didn’t betray
her in the end. As it is, they go to the garden in the palace, are
intercepted by the Tisroc and his son, so they hide, in exactly the room
where Rabadash explains to his father his plan to attack Archenland and
Narnia in his hunt for Susan.
So when Aravis, Shasta, Bree and
Hwin take off across the desert, through the not-so-secret passage, they
are armed with the knowledge of what’s been going on through the lands.
Since Aravis was injured by Aslan, Shasta continues on alone. He meets
the king, who thinks Shasta is his son, as they are splitting images of
each other (Shasta met Cor, who was visiting with Susan on their trip to
Calormene). But he can’t keep up with the king on the return to the
castle, and takes the wrong path, so ends up in Narnia. Based on the
map, I have a lot of trouble believing that Shasta could walk all that
distance in one night.
Fortunately, he meets up with several
Narnians, who get the word to Cair Paravel, and Edmund, Peter and Lucy
show up with an army.
The battle is told in strange fashion,
from the hermit’s magic mirror where Aravis is recovering, and where
Bree is having a crisis of conscience, as he ran from the lion instead
of helping Aravis, like Shasta did. It’s a fascinating way to describe
the battle, since Shasta was knocked out of the battle right at the
start. I find it hilarious that Rabadash is defeated by a hook on the
wall, and ends up hanging there, unable to get down as his soldiers are
slaughtered around him. Eventually, though the King offers him a way
home, he ends up being cursed because he’s so full of anger. Aslan turns
him into an animal, except when he’s within a short distance of a
special temple in Calormene.
In the end, Shasta ends up being
Prince Corin, lost son of the king, and twin of Prince Cor. He of course
ends up marrying Aravis. Rabadash ends up being the nicest Tisroc of
Calormene while he lives.
The author captures the sense of
wonder without having everyone being completely na´ve and developing
unusual knowledge and abilities, as in The Lion, the Witch and the
Wardrobe. It made the book much more enjoyable, and we got to discover
three lands, from Calormene to Archenland and Narnia. The two main
characters were interesting and had unique characteristics. I liked the
way Aravis couldn’t escape her haughtiness at the apparently-lower-class
Shasta, and grew to like him anyway. Bree learns that there are many
types of courage, and Hwin helps him do that.