"Blood Ties", the opening part of Pamela Freeman's "Castings" trilogy was a decent opening, but darted between characters with all the feeling of a chick lit style novel and, for me, interrupted the flow of things. The story was entertaining enough, but the writing style detracted a little from it and one of the main characters seemed pushed into the background.
Following on directly from the events of that book, "Deep Water" starts with Bramble, Ash and Martine on their way to see Safred, the Well of Secrets; someone who hears the voices of the gods better than most people. As well as Bramble needing healing, they are seeking advice on how best to stop Saker from raising ghosts to take revenge on the invaders who took over the country a thousand years previously. Bramble's desire to do stop him gains extra motivation after the ghosts attack on Carlion costing the lives of her sister and brother-in-law.
Through Safred, the gods tell them that the best way to stop Saker's enchanted ghost army is to raise the ghost of the invader, Acton. These ghosts were the result of his invasion and if he has killed them all once, maybe he can kill them again. However, in order to raise the ghost of Acton they need the appropriate songs and to find Acton's bones. This splits the party, as Ash goes to find his father, a singer and musician, to learn the songs that he was never taught before, but which he will need now. Bramble is taken by the gods to observe Acton's life through the eyes of some of his companions to find out where the bones are.
The style of "Deep Water" matches that of "Blood Ties", in that it's written in that same chick lit style; switching between characters with each chapter. This time out, it's even more confusing than before, as for much of the story, Bramble inhabits the bodies of various people from Acton's time, which means her sections are constantly switching focus in themselves. This also results in the time frame altering between her parts and those of the others, some of whom are a thousand years in the future looking after her body. However, this also provides some entertainment, as most of the characters she inhabits are men and there are some funny moments as she adjusts to the physical differences between the genders.
This consistency of style did mean that a couple of the things I thought let "Blood Ties" down a little were again present. Once more, Saker's story was pushed very much into the background, although as his preparation for what may prove to be the final encounter was the easiest of them all, following him for too long would have been a little boring and he did get a brief but exciting cameo late on. The other issue was that Freeman occasionally dips into the stories of the minor characters which, because they rarely reappear, act only as a diversion and seem to be there to fill space. They do add a little bit of extra colour, but they don't always seem entirely necessary.
If the weaknesses of "Blood Ties" are still apparent, its' strengths are also here. Freeman has created a very distinctive cast of characters, each with entirely separate personalities, from the straight forward and grounded Cael, to the enthusiastic and flighty Flax. Once more, you rarely get a feel for how the characters look, but their personalities are so well drawn that you don't need appearances to tell them apart. Even the new additions to the party in this book are given their own personalities so swiftly that it soon seems hard to imagine that they haven't always been involved in the tale.
What makes "Deep Water" the better of the two books in the trilogy so far is that the story moves along a lot better. You get a sense of things coming to a climax, even though that climax may yet be some way off. Middle parts of trilogies can so often seem like their only purpose is to bridge the gap between the opening and the ending, but here it really feels like Freeman is laying the foundations for the ending. There is always something happening and whereas the opening book felt like they were just trying to get somewhere, this feels like they have arrived and they're getting ready for some major event. The characters themselves are still travelling, but it doesn't seem as if they are just moving for the sake of it, they seem to have a lot more purpose than before.
At the end of "Blood Ties", I wasn't too concerned whether or not I ever finished reading the trilogy. Quite a way before the end of "Deep Water", I knew I have to see how things turn out when it all comes together. It is rare for me that I am more excited by the second part of a trilogy than I am with the first, so Freeman has accomplished something unusual here. It's a little expensive to buy, with a cheapest price of £2.45 from the Amazon Marketplace, but if you've enjoyed the first part of the series, this one is even better, which doesn't make that a bad price to pay. If the final part is this good, or even raises the bar once again, it's going to be an incredible read.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk