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Pamela Freeman's ''Castings'' trilogy is written in an unusual way for a fantasy novel. It tells the story from the characters points of view, in a style more common to the chick-lit novels of Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees. This interrupted the flow of the story quite noticeably in ''Blood Ties'', the first of the trilogy, but didn't seem quite so much of a distraction in the second part, ''Deep Water''. Unfortunately, this time around it works against the story.
Saker's ghostly army is going through the towns of the Domains one by one, killing those who are descended from the invaders of the land. He is determined to reclaim the land for the people and is essentially leading a process of ethnic cleansing, using the dead to achieve his aims. Unfortunately, his actions aren't making him feel the way he expected, as he's gaining no real sense of triumph from decimating the people.
In an attempt to stop Saker, Ash and Bramble have raised the ghost of Acton, the man who led the invasion of the Domains many years before. Seeing Acton raised from the dead, even as a ghost, has a powerful effect on many he encounters, including Bramble. The situation isn't going well for the warlord Thegan who in trying to take control of the situation, loses control of his marriage and some of his army. All are trying to reach the town of Turvite; Saker to destroy, Acton to save and Thegan to save face.
The story itself is a good one, with a race against time and enemies to reach the final confrontation, but the writing style greatly lessens the impact. The constant switching between characters means you don't get a feel for where everyone is at any time and there is so little interaction between the two sides that they seem somehow distant from each other, not in opposition. Until it actually happens, there is no sense that there will be a coming together and the constant changes of focus seem to slow things down a little at a time the pace should be building up.
There are, however, some very good aspects to the story. Throughout the trilogy, Freeman's characters have been very lifelike and that hasn't changed here. Even the main ghost characters have quite distinct personalities, even as part of an army. What was interesting was where characters you'd met previously were raised as ghosts, they retained the same personality, so you always knew which ghost was which as clearly as you could differentiate between the living.
One character I particularly enjoyed this time around was Saker. His actions seemed to be glossed over in the earlier parts of the trilogy, but this was very much his story. Of all the characters here, he was the most well-rounded and we got to see a number of aspects to his character which, for the supposed leader of evil was interesting. His doubts as well as his determination came through strongly and the way his character was written showed the best of Freeman's writing.
I thoroughly enjoyed the ending as well, which was emotionally charged and with all the characters together the style of writing was less of a hindrance. At this point, the book read more like a standard fantasy novel and it showed that there's nothing wrong with Freeman's writing, it was just the style that didn't quite suit the story or the genre.
I didn't feel too strongly about the earlier parts of the trilogy and those feelings were replicated here in a single volume. I didn't feel terribly involved early on, but the longer things went on, the better the book became. The stylistic devices used never really worked until circumstances lessened their impact, but Freeman's characterisation is as good as anyone and the basic idea was always an intriguing one.
Whilst the ''Castings'' trilogy itself may never be essential reading, apart from as an interesting exploration of a new style, there is certainly enough here to be able to tell that Freeman is a decent writer and if she does anything else, it could be worth looking out for. This trilogy itself is certainly worth a read, but with this part available from £2.24 at the Amazon Marketplace, only on a borrowed basis, rather than as a purchase.
This is a slightly amended version of a review that previously appeared under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk