01/12/2008. Contributed by Sue Stewart
pub: DAW Books. 392 page paperback. Price: $7.99 (US), $10.99 CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7564-0447-5.
check out website: www.dawbooks.com and www.sff.net/people/jpalmatier/
Unusually for a sequel, 'The Cracked Throne' takes over exactly where 'The Skewed Throne' left off. Obviously, having read 'The Skewed Throne' I can't say for certain whether this one can stand alone, but I think it could. You've missed a good book if you don't read the first one, but it's not absolutely essential that you do.
The middle of a book of a trilogy is often accused of being purely instrumental in getting us from the first to the third book, but that's certainly not the case here.
There are plenty of incidents and more than enough problems for Varis to overcome, not least a vision that she and the previous mistress share of Amenkor's harbour destroyed, the water red with blood and the city in flames. To begin with, however, Varis doesn't have the prospect of a new enemy to face. She has her hands full getting to grips with being the new Mistress of Amenkor.
There is no 'A few years later....' segue, no switch to an alternative point of view or location for this book and I was glad of it. My curiosity about how Varis would develop kept my attention in the first book and it promised to do so in the second, too.
I've said before that Varis' story is no fairytale and she is no fairytale princess. She has a tendency to grunt quite a lot for a start and insists on wearing her usual clothes rather than the Mistress' traditional white robes. Her fierce loyalties and bitter hatreds are a little more considered than they were when she was a child but at the beginning of this book she's largely unchanged. She's loyal to the people who are kind to her and hates anyone who makes her and people like her suffer.
However, in spite of the strength of her gift, Varis is untrained and unprepared for the power of the throne itself and that puts her at risk. Moreover, as an erstwhile inhabitant of the Dredge, she is much more concerned about the welfare of the people there than any mistress before her and that puts her at odds with some very powerful people.
At first, Varis seems much more altruistic, much more socially minded than they are. She also seems compelled to take the side of the people of the Dredge. That's her role in the scheme of things. That's where she came from. She's absolutely unshakeable in her conviction that it is the right thing to do. As her powers grow, they confirm her tendency to consider that the end justifies the means.
This raises serious questions about what it means to live in and to run a police state. Amenkor is a place where even the inhabitants' thoughts may not be private. Anyone may be spied on at any time, purely at the whim of those with the power to do so. At Varis' discretion, basically.
Although Varis is secure in her belief that her intentions are good, she is merciless in prosecuting the wrong-doers her visions expose. So we have to consider if power tends to corrupt and Varis appears to have absolute power, will it corrupt her absolutely?
Given the dangers that Varis is facing at the end of 'The Cracked Throne', it's not certain that she'll actually survive long enough to find out, but it's the job of the final book of the trilogy to tell us. The hardback of 'The Vacant Throne' is already available and the paperback is due out in January 2009, so I only have a little while to wait. Watch this space.
In other news: if you'd rather have your copies of the books in German, Joshua has just sold the German foreign language rights to Lubbe. 'The Skewed Throne' is to be released in 2009 under the title 'Die Assassine'. The other two books are expected to be released at six-monthly intervals, but he doesn't know what the titles will be yet.
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