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After reading "Path of Revenge", the first in Russell Kirkpatrick's "Broken Man" trilogy, I worried that his idea may not be strong enough to survive a story arc that looked set to last through three nearly 700-page novels. By the time I got to the end of "Dark Heart", the second in this trilogy, I knew I had no need to be concerned.
Husk is still in his tower, using his magic and the strength he can draw from others around him to take revenge on the immortal who has enslaved him. However, as his strength and power grow, so events out in the world affect those people who he is tracking and assisting on their way towards him. These people are being guided so that they can aid his revenge and whilst he talks to and assists them, they don't realise that they are being moved like pieces on a chessboard.
What Husk doesn't realise is that there is also a squabble going on between the Gods. The Son and the Daughter combined many years ago to thrown the Father out of the world and now they are battling for supremacy, like any siblings. Husk is trying to control the people he needs, but the Gods are also trying to use them for their own ends and the two forms of magic sometimes interfere with each other. This causes freak weather and some of the characters being removed briefly from the world and put back in it somewhere they didn't expect. What's worse for Husk is that the three people he is trying to control keep encountering each other and risk ruining his plans by talking about it and figuring out what is happening to them.
In the mean time, all the characters are having their own problems. Having been plucked from the world and deposited in a place she has never seen before, the cosmographer Lenares has lost her ability to use her numbers to figure everything out and this sets her off balance. Meanwhile, Noetos' past has come back to haunt him as the people who killed his family many years before have now come to see him as a threat. Stella's life is turned upside down by the arrival of someone she both loves and hates and this puts both Conal and Robal, who have their own feelings for her, on edge.
Once again, Kirkpatrick keeps the pace high and keeps events streaming on. Things are not quite as relentless as they were in the first part, with the groups of characters occasionally coming together and sitting down to try and make sense of things. Whilst this does slow things down a little, this is balanced out by the characters being placed in far more danger than they were in the first part, so when the pace does pick up, it's usually down to something exciting going on that you can hardly bear to take your eyes off.
Once again, the story is split into sections, with each part dealing with the journey of a separate character. This again works well at keeping the tension going, especially as each part generally finishes at a point where the characters are in some kind of danger, but the sections aren't so short that you've not had chance to settle into their part of the journey and so when they do find danger, you care about what happens to them. This doesn't work quite so well when all the characters are together or when some of them end up as part of a different group, as the sections then lose a little of their distinctive touches and become a little similar.
Fortunately, the same can never be said of the characters themselves. Each has a distinct personality and they are so well written that at points I was able to distinguish who was speaking simply by the way they said or did certain things. They all have their own demons haunting them as well, which makes their stories distinctly different, even though their journeys coincide at several points and their destination is the same.
I was a little worried at the start when a lot of magic was being used that there would be a little too much deus ex machina and the story would lose some of the human edge. Whilst there were a couple of points that did seem a little like the former, for the most part this is a very human story. The pace may have been lower, but there were some delightful twists to the story, with poor Lenares in particular getting a number of nasty surprises. However, I did find that Torve's reaction to a certain event fascinating, especially given all that had happened to him up until that point, as he came in for psychological as well as physical torment at several points.
Overall, I didn't think that "Dark Heart" was quite as strong as the first part in the trilogy, but it came very close. Even despite that, Kirkpatrick's characters and his eye for a story are so strong that even if this is second best, it's far better than many I have read. Kirkpatrick writes with the eye for a well drawn character of Kate Elliott or Karen Miller, but with a far better sense of pacing and the imagination to keep throwing new things into the mix than either, which makes his work more enjoyable that nearly everything I've read in the fantasy genre, particularly recently. Given that it's available for as little as £2.47 from the Amazon Marketplace, this makes it well worth looking out for.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk