Friday, 22 February 2013

Fantasy Review: 'Lokant' by Charlotte E English

Warning: contains major spoilers for book 1 of the series, 'Draykon'.

I really enjoyed the first book of the Draykon series. It had interesting characters, an unusual world and magic system, and that just-one-more-chapter style that makes even such a long book flow past very easily. This one, the second in the series, picks up not long after its predecessor ended, and is largely concerned with the fall-out from events in that book. Eva and Tren are trying to work out just what is going on, Llandry's father is trying to find her, and Llandry herself - well, more on Llandry in a moment.

I was a bit hazy on the details of the story so far, but there's enough information given to get even the most casual reader up to speed without infodumping. The setting is quite complicated - a series of seven realms, some of which are in permanent daylight, some in permanent night, and one is half and half, comprise a 'middle' world, and there are upper and lower worlds as well, which in some way occupy the same space as the middle world, but are very different. We don't see quite as much of the enchanting light-filled upper and threatening lower worlds in this book, which is a shame. Their constantly changing aspects and bizarre life forms fascinate me.

As always, it's the characters who make or break a book for me, and there's a particularly fine collection of them here. Llandry and her parents were a highlight of the first book, but the stars here are Eva and Tren, who provide both romantic interest and comic relief, as well as much of the action. Eva was difficult to like in the first book, being a little too composed, too competent, too contained for sympathy, and Tren seemed like a minor character, but both of them blossom here, and are a delightful pair. An honourable mention, too, for Rheas, Llandry's grandfather, who combines stubborn eccentricity with family affection in a delightfully unusual way. There are several new characters, too, amongst the Lokants of the title, about which I will say no more, to avoid spoilers. As before, the odd creatures from the upper and lower worlds prove to have their own quirky charms, although we see less of them in this book.

OK, here comes the big spoiler from book 1: at the end of it, Llandry was transformed into a draykon (a dragon, basically), and her delight in her new form, the contrast with her timid and all too human self, and her relationship with Pensould, the draykon revived at the end of book 1, are wonderful to read. Both of them have adjustments to make which are clearly not easy for them. She shows at one point that she's capable of very draykon anger, while he becomes noticeably more human as the book progresses. I am very much looking forward to finding out the conclusion of their story in book 3, to see where on the draykon/human spectrum they end up, and whether they end up together or not.

The story opens out a great deal in this book, and many things which mystified me in book 1 are explained, such as the full importance of the strange 'istore' material which Llandry found, and something of Llandry's own nature and the significance of it. We learned a lot about Eva, too. I found the Lokants and their abilities a little too convenient, but the explanation for it, and the way it relates to the known forms of magic (the split into sorcery and summoning abilities, for instance) is very clever, and elegantly done.

The pace seemed to be quite slow for much of the time - there was a great deal of Eva and Tren researching, for instance, and a certain amount of sitting around while one of the Lokants explains the backstory - but things hot up dramatically at the end and suddenly there's the threat of full-scale war looming. And then, rather abruptly, it ends. I suppose that's the sign of an enjoyable book, when you're so absorbed that the end comes as a surprise. I liked the way that, despite the action (and actually, there's plenty), the book is largely about people and their relationships. Llandry and Pensould, Llandry and her parents, her parents and her grandfather, Eva and Tren - all of these relationships are believable, and most of the characters are likeable, in their various ways, even the grumpy Rheas and the unevolved Pensould. I loved that Tren and Eva have only the slightest qualm about their age difference (she's thirteen years older than him); the difficulty is far more subtle and more unusual than that.

If I have a grumble, it's that the names are difficult to remember - people have first names, surnames and diminutives; there are multiple names for places, too. And none of the names are meaningful (to me, that is), which makes them hard to remember. But I'm at last beginning to get the hang of the seven realms (the wonderful map helped here), the daylands and darklands, and the upper and lower worlds, which I found confusing initially. As the second book in the series, it naturally loses a little freshness and originality, but it gains in the greater depth in the characters and in revealing more of the overall story. I enjoyed this perhaps more than the first, and I'm very much looking forward to reading the conclusion. A good four stars.

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