01/05/2003. Contributed by Phil Jones
Pub: Orbit/Time Warner. 550 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99(UK). ISBN: 1-84149-124-1.
check out website: www.orbitbooks.co.uk
Livak is bored and fed up. She is stuck in the new colony of Kellarin over winter with nothing to do to entertain herself. Nobody to gamble with and no one wants her coins she has stashed away.
They much rather ask for her time or to do odd jobs than take her money. Ryshad and Temar tell her of their plan to reclaim the southern settlement established by the original settlers. This relies on the arrival of the first ship of the season from the mainland, which Livak eagerly waits for.
Reports of one ship setting off early become known when it doesn't arrive in Kellarin. The Captain was going to make the torturous crossing early in the season by stopping at the islands of Suthyfer to rest and stock up on water.
All is not what it seems though when a distress call is 'bespoke' by a wizard who is on board the second ship to make the crossing that year. He is very distressed and alerts Kellarin to the presence of pirates on Suthyfer. The ships are the lifelines to the up and coming colony. Without supplies and a trading route, the new settlements will fail.
Meanwhile, in Hadrumal the wizards maneuver - weaving their political wrangling trying to decide who is fit to fill empty posts. This and other political events leave the colonists without reinforcements to deal with the pirates.
A rescue plan is initiated and any suitable mercenary is hired and sent out on ships from Kellarin with two apprentices on the mainland to rescue the captives. The attack on the pirates reveals darker hands are at work and the pirates have magic wielders who are subservient to another enemy.
At the heart of this book is regular vanilla-flavored fantasy. You know what you're getting. The only real difference between this and a lot of other fantasy books is the quality of writing. Engaging characters draw you in along with a very wholesome complex magical system.
The dialogue is at times exceptional and makes both the characters and the world seems very 'real'. I'm new to this series coming in at the final episode but McKenna builds in the back-stories without swamping or slowing down the pace.
This is always a good idea in a long-running series of books as it refreshes current fans and new readers alike to previous books and storylines. It also means you can happily read this book in isolation to the rest of the series.
McKenna is also not afraid to hold back and deals with the consequences of people's action as much as the journey there. This makes for a fuller and richer world. This approach could easily get bogged down with political content but McKenna keeps it light but still full-bodied, akin to a good red wine.
There is also plenty of bloodí ní guts fighting, intrigue and quest pursuing. The multiple plotlines are rounded up and finished in style that will please fans of the series especially.
Overall, an enjoyable book but as I said earlier perhaps McKenna needs to break away from this familiar territory and push the genre a bit further, add that 'x' factor that would really make her books shine. Roll on her next series.
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