This is the fourth part of a six-book series, and if that sounds like a Wheel-of-Time-esque slog, it’s not as bad as it sounds. The series was planned as a trilogy, which is standard fantasy fare, and it was the publisher’s decision to split it into six smaller books. Whether that was a wise move or not is a moot point.
I read the first two
books (‘Chained’ and ‘Quest’) as the originally intended single volume,
and I loved the epic-standard world-building, the array of well-rounded
characters and the literate writing style. The third book (‘Secrets’),
worked less well for me as the complexity increased, and the action
began to dominate. This book starts well. It’s always a problem with a
series as complex as this to get the reader up to speed on the events of
previous books. Some authors sprinkle little reminders here and there,
and some don’t feel the need to bother (we’re presumed to have
encyclopedic memories, presumably, or to reread everything before the
new release - well, stuff that, life’s too short). But Kitson produces
perhaps the most creative approach yet to the problem, having the
characters fill the reader in, and all in their own inimitable style.
Way to go.
Everything I liked about the previous books is all
here. The world has awesome depth and breadth, the characters feel real,
the writing is as good as ever if slightly overblown at times, and
there’s a touch of humour here and there. The magic system is simple
enough: elemental magic powered by crystals or gems, but with wild magic
thrown into the mix as well. The things I liked less well are also
here: the evil villains bent on global domination, the hordes of
mindless minions, the over-the-top action scenes with mages hurling
fireballs at each other (although the earth mages were quite fun).
risk with creating a full-blown epic fantasy in the traditional style
is that sooner or later the complexity grows to such a level that it’s
liable to overwhelm the story. There’s a moment to pull back and start
drawing the threads together again, but unfortunately Kitson hasn’t yet
reached that point. The characters that I loved so well in the first
book are here choked by the need to move the plot along and rarely have
time to breathe between bouts of action. With characters this
well-realised, there needs to be time for them to express some emotional
depth, otherwise they become caricatures, wheeled onstage as plot
devices and then smartly pushed off again to make way for the next
battle. Sadly, I never felt engaged by the characters; the romantic
entanglement seemed contrived, and the deaths were dealt with in an
almost perfunctory fashion. Even the world-building feels stifling here.
It pains me to say this when a world is so brilliantly conceived down
to the last detail, but I could have done with a little less history and
fewer info-dumps (although they were mercifully short).
the worst problem for me is that the plot has become predictable. Time
after time our heroes find themselves in an impossible situation,
overwhelmed by the enemy, yet miraculously manage to pull through. Even
grievous injuries barely seem to slow them down. There were one or two
nice twists at the end but otherwise I could see everything that had to
happen, and I’m not the most astute of readers.
This may sound
very negative, but I want to make it quite clear that this is a purely
personal perspective. I look for character-driven fantasy first and
foremost, and here the characters have become subservient to the action.
But everything that didn’t work for me is something that another reader
would find awesome. For anyone who relishes a well-written traditional
epic fantasy with multiple bands of characters roving across the
landscape on intertwining quests, heroes facing impossible odds,
humungous battles full of wizardry and an array of evil-to-the-core bad
guys, this is definitely the series for you. Enjoy! But for me it was
only two stars.