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Set in a very solid and carefully realised 10th century pseudo-Europe, Kate Elliot's Crown of Stars series shows an unusual degree of attention to historical detail and an even more unusual degree of skill in weaving the detail into the story. Volume one, The King's Dragon, ended with its several protagonists in very mixed circumstances. Prince Sanglant was last seen chained to the throne of the Eika raider, Bloodheart, while lowly Alain, a merchant's foster-child had been accepted as the bastard son of Count Lavastine; as for Liath, a magically-gifted orphan once the abused slave of the (quite despicable) priest, Father Hugh, she had been accepted into The Eagles, King Henry's elite courier corps, and appeared momentarily safe from her varied mundane and mystical pursuers... The second volume is a brisk development of earlier themes. As King Henry slowly cements his hold on recently rebellious Varre and plans to avenge himself on Bloodheart for Sanglant's (presumed) death, conspiracy blossoms in his court, centring on his brash elder daughter Sapienta who has fallen under the influence of Father Hugh. The lesser characters orbit about the royal family, chafing at the (very varied) bonds that hold them to fates they did not choose... Elliot's depiction of a medieval world is distinguished by her clear understanding of just how little choice almost everyone in this society has, how they are given away, promised away, sold, bartered, consigned to a life in holy orders, or an unwanted marriage, or servitude, at the whim of their elders... But what really makes her work compelling is her willingness to put her characters into very nasty situations and let them twist there, victims to a sequence of genuinely credible villains. There are no caricature fantasy Dark Lords here, only very real, egotistical, selfish and self-centred people. Watching Father Hugh stalk Liath across the page is positively chilling at times; one ends up hoping the bastard burns, and I mean that as the sincerest possible compliment to the author.
Imagine my delight when I discovered a new series of thick, substantial fantasy novels to get my teeth into! Well, okay, perhaps not so new – the first volume was published in 1997, but this author is certainly new to me and to dooyoo. This is the second volume of the “Crown of Stars” series, the first being King’s Dragon and the third, The Burning Stone. The only other published work mentioned on the book jackets appears to be a collaboration with Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Roberson, The Golden Keys (I’ve not read this one). On investigation, Kate Elliott is an American author who also writes as Alis A. Rasmussen. She has a website at www.sff.net/people/Kate.Elliott. Volume 4 of Crown of Stars has already been published (Child of Flame), and she is working on the fifth. She has also written a series called The Novels of the Jaran – I don’t know if these are available in the UK. After reading three of her books, I definitely feel the rest are worth a look. I know I really should have reviewed the first book in the series, but there was a long gap between reading the first and the second volumes in this series, and I think I must have inadvertently read the third volume out of sequence, because it seems very familiar as I read it now! So you’re getting the second one. The books are set in an imaginary world which seems similar to ours (and Kate says she drew much of her inspiration from European history), and in a mediaeval time period with lords and serfs, knights and magicians. There is also a race of beings which are not human but seem to invade lands, burn and pillage much like the Norse raiders, and a “lost race” of (possibly) superior beings. The characters in the books are vividly drawn and the main protagonists are followed through separate chapters, which are drawn together as the story unfolds. This is a literary device which I enjoy, as it allows the rea der to follow events from several different perspectives. There is a strong religious thread, with parallels in Christianity, and the same old problems when sects with slightly differing beliefs are persecuted. Prince of Dogs begins with one of the main characters, Prince Sanglant, imprisoned by the non-human race, the Eika. One story line follows his captivity and degradation, and then his rescue by Liath, a King’s messenger who has some magical powers. The two met and fell in love in the first book, and their story continues in this one. A group of young men have entered a monastery, some willingly and others to escape difficult lives. They hear through a fence the preaching of a young female who holds heretical beliefs, and witness a so-called miracle. They are converted to the heresy, and the story follows the trouble that this causes for them and others. Alain, whose parentage is shrouded in mystery, has been named as heir to Count Lavastine, who believes that Alain is his bastard son. He is linked in dreams to one of the sons of Bloodheart, the leader of the Eika. How this came about is explained in the first book. The evil Father Hugh pops up from time to time, charming most people with his good looks and perfect manners, but secretly desiring Liath and working black magic to try and further his own ends. The book ends after a major battle with the Eika which results in the release of Sanglant, the death of Bloodheart and the unleashing of a curse, all of which really makes the reader want to know what happens next. These books, by a relatively unknown writer, will be enjoyed by all fans of the genre. Because of the complex and interwoven storylines, I would suggest that they be read in sequence and without huge time gaps between each book, or you will find it difficult to remember who’s who and what has happened previously. I have tried not to give away too much of the story, but I h ope there is enough here to whet appetites and give this author a wider audience.
The sequel to King's Dragon. Sanglant, King Henry's bastard son, believed dead, is held captive by Bloodheart, the Eika warlord. Liath is still grieving for him, but must master the powers at her command and unlock the secrets of her own past - without endangering herself or others.