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"Our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring..."
Book five of the Guardians of the Flame series while an interesting transition piece, is the one I re-read least often. (I recommend reading reviews on the other books in the series so you won't be lost. They are The Sleeping Dragon, The Sword and The Chain, The Silver Crown and The Heir Apparent.) This work wanders in an almost aimless manner. Like the restless tide idly tossing flotsam and jetsam onto the shore, it offers up the new and then whirls and pulls upon the established characters as the receding tide upon the firmly placed supports of a pier. We are invited to grieve with the survivors but it brings no solace.
As I delve further into the book, I grow uneasy and begin searching for the reasons why I should feel this way. Once questioned, an answer rises to my conscious mind. The center has vanished from the lives of our familiar band and each must deal with their grief as well as they can. Yes, this is true, but this alone does not account for the disquiet I have felt each time I read this particular novel. It is only now as I examine this work for this review that I perceive the heart of my perturbation. More than the characters, the novel itself takes on a semblance of life and seems as forlorn, heartsick, and unsure as a lost child. Yet, this seems completely appropriate as it seeks a new heart for this world to revolve around ...
"But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of read,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead...."
Karl Cullinane did not return from his last ride, however neither did Ahrmin, his Guildbrothers or any of the 100 men who had laid in wait for him. After the final mighty explosion, Walter and Ahira turned back to insure that none survived to boast of this kill. The message they left upon the slaver bodies, Walter and Ahira signed for all three of them and it said simply...The Warrior Lives. Now, even in the heart of Pandathaway, Slavers no longer feel safe. When someone starts murdering slavers and leaving more of these notes, they simply must know if HE is truly gone. Young master Laheran is sent out to investigate.
A year has passed, yet Jason feels no more confident or comfortable with the mantle of leadership he has inherited from his father. We see him learn and grow in this work and cannot help but smile fondly. He still cannot see all the qualities he has from his father. The same gentleness, compassion, self doubt, and impetuous nature are easily seen, but the iron will Karl was known for seems to come far easier to Jason. Of course at his age, such determination doesn't help you much when you don't have the wisdom to back it up. Whether dealing with the politics of the empire or his elders and peers, Jason has little idea how to present himself or deal with others.
Jason spends much of his time in this novel being bewildered by the other characters and their actions. His father left several important matters of state that he has no idea how to implement or even if he should in some cases. All of which he has to decide amidst an arguing and divided council. His best friend, Mykyn, seems to be obsessing about the darkest hours of his childhood and sets out to find his own justice. Tennetty, aka Karl Cullinane's "crazy, one-eyed, attack b*tch", has transferred her demanding loyalty to Jason. Karl couldn't always restrain her and we sometimes wonder how long her blind devotion to Karl's heir will keep her in check, so does he. As Ellegon says, "She's not completely tame, you know."
His wizard mother is half crazed with grief and has been hiding her true appearance behind a seeming as she searches endlessly with her magic for some sign of her beloved husband. To a wizard, magic is like a powerful drug. In proper doses it can work miracles, but if you use too much the results can be devastating. How does a loving, beleaguered and unsure son deal with parental grief of this magnitude? He seems quite aware, however, that as difficult as life is for him right now, larger problems lay ahead waiting to make themselves known.
"O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up - for you the flag is flung - for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths - for you the shores a-crowding.
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear Father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck
You've fallen cold and dead."
Everyone is eager to believe that Karl managed to beat the phenomenal odds against him yet again. Few are as thirsty for his return as Jason who's doubts and longings support the old adage that sometimes we don't truly appreciate what we have until it is gone.Rumors are multiplying but the one thread that runs through all the variations about the Warrior is that Karl is alive. Is he? Is he behind the mysterious slaver murders? Where are Ahira and Walter? For all the best reasons, Jason must know. With a small band, He sets out to find the truth. However, truth is often as elusive as Pellinore's famed Questing Beast and not nearly as easy to understand or accept.
This is a transitional novel with little else to appeal to readers. It shares individual character reactions to grief with the reader, allows time for Jason to grow, but it's main purpose seems to be establishing the state of affairs as the dust settles. Perhaps allowing us to catch our breath and giving us a chance to examine the situation is wise considering the chaos so recently unleashed.
Walter's elder daughter Janie is re-introduced as a fully participating, adult member to the group and has quickly become one of my favorite characters. Doria has lost her status as a cleric of the Hand society but she seems to be far more content and satisfied since returning to the tight circle of her friends. She retains the clerical spells she had at the time of her defection, and hoards them within the recesses of her mind. We are left to wonder what part she will play in the future. We also get a closer look at the Slavers Guild, their members, and slave owners in general, seeing them as people rather than embodied in one evil individual.
In this work, we see all the varied repercussions that follow the death of a legendary figure and the blossoming of his heir. In the end, truth is found, and Jason does touch us with the wisdom he has gained from all these experiences. He chooses to be his own man as well as honoring his father's ideals, and Karl's true mantle of authority settles upon his shoulders at last. He publicly acknowledges Ahira and Walter as his teachers, and vows not only to avoid his father's biggest mistake, but to keep alive the Flame of Freedom that he ignited in this world. Thus, in truth, The Warrior Lives!
"My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead." .... Walt Whitman