THE MAGEBORN TRAITORA novel by Malanie Rawn
(1997, DAW Books)
Exiles Trilogy, book 2
Sarra and Collan grow, their children enter Cailet's Mage Academy, while Glenin plots to destroy her sisters and conquer the world.
-- First reading (paperback)
A very strong outing, with a good battle at the end, and incredible character development. The only real problem was the length of the book. It got tiring to know that even after a major event, I had to wait 20-30 pages before I could know the real outcome. But consequencesSpoiler review:
Not a heck of a lot happened through most of this book. The major events are covered in great detail, and (unfortunately, sometimes) so is everyday life. But the length of the book also has a very strong upside to it: the reader gets to know the characters very well, including their probable reactions when things happen.
Ironically enough, Sarra is barely featured as a main character. She makes numerous appearances as the years pass, but the book was mostly from the point of view of Collan, Cailet, and the twins, Mikel and Taigan. Since Sarra was the one I liked the best in The Ruins of Ambrai, I was sort of disappointed in her lack of coverage. But this book was mostly about Cailet, and she turned from being so uncertain that it was difficult to read from her point of view in the last book, to being such a strong and interesting character, who still had doubts, but who constantly professed "let it all play out", and see where events lead.
The book opens very soon after the end of the last book. Cailet is still living in Ryka, where Sarra is on the political council. I was hooked from the very beginning, because it hinted at a huge political struggle, and this covered most of the first part of the book. Cailet overhears some powerful women in the gardens talking about having her killed (not knowing she was there, of course). She is asked to remove some haunting wards (spells) from the chambers that the former first Councilor left behind, when nobody knew that she was mageborn. While doing this, she encounters some really wild visions, of past, present and future, and ends up killing the fetus Sarra carries. It turns out for the best, however, because this child would have been tainted by Anniyas, and probably would have married Glenin's son and ruled the world. The last taint of Anniyas is removed when Cailet finds out about a loose wraith roaming from the Haunted Woods where evil wraiths are kept bound. Anniyas' wraith was so strong that she killed the other evil wraiths, consumed their magic, and was almost able to escape. Cailet, learning from her past, wards the woods again without fighting the wraith. Later, she is attacked and nearly killed in an assassination attempt that kills one of the mages we got to know quite well in the last book. I was shocked. But I loved the way Cailet strode into Ryka Court later and denounced the people she knew were responsible.
Years pass, and Sarra delivers twins. Collan raises them, because Sarra is so busy getting laws changed, giving men more and more rights. By the time her children are grown up, she has missed their childhood.
Glenin makes several appearances, but nothing really worth note, except as to how the others react to her. When the twins were young, she tried to kidnap them, using her son as a decoy to lure Collan away. She fails, though, when the twins get away from her and stay hidden as Collan comes to their rescue. Her accomplice ends up tearing her velvet ladder. As far as the ladder is concerned, I was under the impression from the last book that nobody had the skill to make ordinary ladders anymore, and that the velvet, portable ladder was even more difficult. But after years of spells, Glenin is able to make one for use in the last few chapters. Inconsistent? Or was I mistaken?
The fact that his children were able to get away from Glenin on their own sends Collan into a midlife crisis. They don't need him any more. He ends up focusing on a woman who beats her husband, even to the point of blackmailing her into selling some of her property to some friends. The man nearly dies from the beating he received after Collan threatened the woman. But the real problem is that Collan has nothing important to do on his own, now that the kids are growing up. So Sarra suggests, on Cailet's behalf, that he could start up an "information" service, called the Minstrelsy, where his traveling minstrels would report any suspicious gossip or information they received. Thus many of Glenin's Malerrisi who were hidden throughout Lenfell were uncovered. And Lenfell enjoyed years of prosperity. For we learn for what is really the first time the fundamental difference between the Mage Guardians and the Malerrisi, and why they cannot live together. Malerrisi believe that people cannot know what is good for them, so they must be enslaved, told what to do, how to live their lives for the better good (the greater good of whom is a question Cailet asks often). The Mage Guardian philosophy is, as Cailet says, to let it all play out, and act in defense only, react to the threat, and not act to prevent the threat in the first place.
Years later, when the twins are seventeen, Glenin tries to kidnap the twins again, but this time Cailet's warding surrounding their magic pushes her back, and all the mageborns in the theatre where they sat fought Glenin's magic, and she was forced to flee. Cailet explains that it is because Taigan is of breeding age now, and Glenin wants offspring between the cousins. So Sarra, scared out of her wits, marches them off to Cailet, and then, when the twins are safe, she has a crisis of her own, wondering how she missed their entire childhood. She wonders if she should have Cailet remove the wards surrounding her magic, pent up for her entire life now. At one point, Glenin observes that the magic will die in a person if it is warded all her life, but by the end, Sarra embraces it, and wants Cailet to teach her. Again, did I miss something?
For Cailet started a new Mage Academy, and gathered to her all mageborns not under Glenin's control, and taught them. She did let everything play itself out, and the mages learned in their own time, in their own way. She had each student built part of a wall, the same as her old teacher taught her to build a wall around her thoughts using a physical wall as a metaphor. And within months of each other, she was presented with two absolutely gorgeous young men as prentices. What is curious about this is that she knows one of them is Glenin's son.
Josselin and Jored come from different circumstances, but have strangely similar backgrounds, and the author does a terrific job of making the reader wonder, up until the moment he is revealed. Josselin was under contract to the same woman whom Collan blackmailed years earlier for marriage. When they discover he is mageborn, he gets to go to Mage Hall to train. But both Collan and Mikel think he might be a Malerrisi, based on what they do or don't remember about certain messengers. And when someone talks about Josselin to Glenin, she smiles knowingly. Josselin is always there to protect the Captal (Cailet), which makes us wonder if he is trying to get her to trust him. He leaves early on the night Cailet's life is torn apart, giving him the opportunity, and if he was Glenin's son, the motive for what happened. And he refused to give Cailet back her sword, making us wonder how he got a hold of it in the first place. But he seemed too sincere to be a Malerrisi. We were introduced to Glenin's son early on, and he was pure evil. I had trouble with the way he would have had to have a complete turnaround, giving heartfelt fear and praise, laughter and so on. I would have had a lot of trouble accepting that he was the traitor, because of the complete but fake turnaround he would have had to make in his personality. But all my gut feelings, manipulated by the author, pointed to him.
Jored, too, was suspicious, but less time was spent developing him, so I was constantly second-guessing myself. All the signs pointed to him as the traitor, but I constantly refused to believe it, because it didn't feel right. But it made sense. He courted Taigan, to whom Glenin wanted to breed her son, he made a map of Mage hall, so he would know exactly how best to destroy it, and he was nowhere near as nice and friendly as Josselin was to the people around him; mostly he kept to himself, acting shy. But I still thought Joss was the traitor. And even with Cailet's battle globe hung between them, I didn't change my mind, until Jored stepped to Glenin's side and revealed himself. I don't understand why Cailet didn't let Taigan kill him when she had the chance. She said it would scar the young woman for life, but Taigan may be forced to kill in the future. Getting the first trauma over with early would be better, I think. I wonder if Taigan will end up killing him in the final book...
When Josselin danced with Cailet under their masks the night of the anonymous celebration, I was really, really worried. He was up close to her, and she didn't ward any protection. And then he disappeared back towards Mage Hall. Jored spent all of that night courting Taigan. Mikel courted another young woman, with whom he enjoyed love- and lust-making for the first time. Later, when Cailet sits in the grove of trees, wondering which man is Glenin's son (for she knows one of them must be), her magic calls her back to Mage Hall in a panic. The place she has spent the last twenty years creating, building from scratch, making into an institution, was burning, ignited by well-placed exploding mage globes. Sabotaged by one of the two young men, and done in a really exacting fashion. The Malerris have no use for the old, the infirm, or the children who may or may not be mageborn, nor with the non-mageborn servants. So those places were completely destroyed, and Cailet ended up with more dead than alive.
I was completely shocked, and even enraged by this! Everything that Cailet had done in the last twenty years was destroyed! Everything! Even some of the most important mages were killed. People we knew almost from the very beginning of the first book! By the end of the book I was able to accept it, but until then, I was nearly as livid as Cailet was. Of course, she has magic, and it threatened to go wild. It took all the concentration of all the remaining mages to keep her under control. At least her healer mage, one of the oldest and best, with knowledge of the old days, still lived, and was able to heal her. But Josselin kept possession of her sword, and she nearly destroyed him to get it back until she was subdued by Taigan and Mikel.
She ends up in Ryka Court, for a trial against Sarra and Collan for blackmail (I knew this would come back to haunt them), and an appearance by Glenin. Glenin now has everybody where she wants them, and she goes in for the kill. The lawsuit is there only to unbalance everybody, and we never get to know the result. Because Glenin goes after Cailet, Sarra and Collan. Collan she kills, and I wonder what exactly the point was. She tries to stretch out his torture, but he takes part of her magic and kills himself. His memories are revealed to us in a way that frustrates more than anything else. He knows why his memories were warded just as he dies, and he understands everything, but we do not. Now that he is dead, how are we going to find out?
To deal with Sarra, Glenin finally reveals to the council that they have the same parents. Now that the world knows, they are less angry with her for lying to them as they are for her being a mageborn and holding political office, forbidden since before remembered history. She is arrested. It is also revealed that Cailet is an Ambrai as well! Glenin gets all of her punches in, and everybody is infuriated. The twins, who knew nothing of their heritage, are stunned. As Sarra and Cailet are getting ready to escape, Glenin comes into her chambers with Joss and Jored. And there is a magical battle that must be read twice to understand all that is happening. It is a wonderful battle. The first time, I rushed through it, wanting to get at the results. The second time, I understood much better what was happening. Although Jored escapes because Cailet won't let Taigan kill him, Glenin is killed, which was a big shock to me. It told me that nothing, absolutely nothing, was sacred. The main characters are supposed to survive all the way through a trilogy. But here were Collan and Glenin dead!
Escaping with Glenin's newly made velvet ladder, Cailet takes everybody to Scraller's Fief, the place where Collan grew up, and where nobody would even think to look for them. It is a good place to regroup, though many mages will not trust Cailet as Captal anymore, because she lied about her identity. The Malerissi had invested so much money in Lenfell banks early in the book, waiting for the chance to bring the world to its knees by creating a cash shortage by withdrawing it all at once. Now, it is not clear if they have come out into the open, or if they are still hiding, but the money is gone. And one thing is very clear: the world is in chaos, Cailet and Sarra are exiles, and I have no idea where this trilogy is going!
I do have one thought about the future, however. The year 1000 is approaching, and I think that will prove to be significant. Maybe otherworldly travelers will come to check on the magic-users. Maybe something else at the millennium. But I think it will be significant.
I also have questions about the wards, and how they are used. And I think the author is trying to keep things rather unclear on purpose. It is said that family can not affect family with wards. But does that include only the wards on physical things? Cailet was able to easily ward Mikel and Taigan's magic, so that even Glenin couldn't get through them. There were several other examples of this as well. There is another point where Cailet explains how Mikel and Taigan got through the wards to her private chambers on the night of the fire. As family, they could pass through her wards, but the room was also warded by another of the mages. She says that his wards were fading because he was dead at that point, but that has never stopped any wards before. For example, Anniyas' wards at the beginning of the book, or Desse's wards around Sarra's magic and Collan's memories. It seems to me like a huge contradiction to muddle the waters and allow things to happen at the end of the book. A bit sloppy, I think.
I absolutely loved Cailet in this book, and it is revealed that Josselin is also in love with her (and I quite like that idea, too, and it explains the dance!). She has a nasty sense of humor when teaching her students about recognizing wards, with her expedition into the forest where they encounter simply and playful wards like "I have an consistent itch", and "I am stark naked". It is never explained who laid the wards that did not belong to her or Joss, but it could have been leftovers from previous "lectures". Cailet is constantly talking with Gorynel Desse inside her head. He became part of her mind when he died making her Captal, and they had the most intriguing conversations! And the shock to both of them when they learn that Josselin is his grandson is even better! I wondered if Collan was also related to Desse, but now I doubt it.
I liked the way the author reviewed past events in this book. Instead of giving a long-winded summary of past events, breaking suddenly into the current story, she gave it piecemeal, as it became relevant. And she didn't give the backstory in detail, letting our own memories draw the events forth from the previous book, or even six hundred pages earlier!
The last thing I want to comment on is one of the best-written parts of the book. The sex scenes featuring Sarra and Collan were neither vulgar nor gratuitous. In fact, they were mostly about feelings and attitudes, and there were barely any "phrases" that would give them away as sex scenes. Mostly, actions were implied, which if anything, made them even more erotic. Sarra and Collan could not seem to get enough of each other. Sometimes it was a seduction based on a purpose (like forgiveness or manipulation), and sometimes it was just there to show how they missed each other. It was great either way. Even when describing Mikel's first experience, it was gratifying to see him thinking it through. To lose the girl moments later in the fire was a real heartbreaker.
I think that's enough for this book! This is a very long review, but it was also an extremely long book, and even though not much happened for long stretches at a time, there was enough character development in those parts that it made me think about a lot of things. With a book this size, even if it is not great, the characters stay with me for long after, because I have been with them for all this time. With a good book, the characters stay even longer.
There were things that I thought were probably used as cheats for the ending based on knowledge that we were given earlier in the book, or in the previous book, but they didn't really detract from the story. The uncertainty in Glenin's son was enough to keep me very interested through the latter part of the book even when other things were going on. And the characters, especially Cailet, grew so nicely that I really enjoyed reading it. It certainly could have been cut down, chopping parts that were important, but not integral, to the characters. And again, I was not really interested in hearing about the ancestors back four generations for every character we meet. But the story was better than good, and the author seemed to correct what went wrong in the last book. So I am anxiously awaiting the final book in the trilogy, The Captal's Tower, which, according to Rawn's website, has not even been submitted to the publisher yet!
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