The Silver Lake by Fiona Patton
Fiona Patton’s a good writer, but her earlier series, the Branion series, just didn’t click for me. This one, however, did.
It’s set mostly in Anavatan, the city on the Shining Lake, which is inhabited by the six gods: Estavia, God of Battles, Usara, God of Healing, Incasa, God of Prophecy, Oristo, God of Hearth and Home, Ystazia, God of the Arts, and Havo, God of Seasonal Bounty. Incasa is the oldest of the Gods, and while he would not endanger the City, he has his own plans. The territory of the city is protected by a mighty wall, both physical and spiritual. Outside the wall there are nomads and spirits, both greedy for the city’s glory and power (there are other nations, too, and they play their role in the story, but they are farther away).
At the change of the seasons, the Gods hand off dominion over the land to each other. This is usually accompanied by violent storms, property damage, and the occasionaly countryside spirit breaking into the city and killing people. Those who are dedicated to one god or another are safe in their homes or temples, but those who follow no god in particular and/or are homeless must find shelter or risk death. The entempled don’t believe that there are many (or any) such people in the city, but they are wrong. Two such are Brax and Spar, orphan boys being raised by Cindar, a thief who has adopted them as his apprentices. Brax is the older of the two boys, but Spar is at least mildly psychic and so plays the role of the “wise man” in their partnership.
Competing with Brax and Spar are Graize and Drove, who have no mentor and are moderately more successful as thieves (these two facts may be related). The two sets of boys dislike each other, a problem relating back to the time that Graize and Drove stole from Brax and Spar’s mentor. To add to the problem, Graize is also psychic, and sees himself as Spar’s superior on that front. Also, he wants Brax, though he isn’t sure in what context. Matters between the four boys come to a head when Brax and Spar’s mentor is killed on the evening of the change of seasons, leaving the boys with no place to go when the weather turns wild. The four boys wind up competing for the same shelter space, and things are about to turn physical when the storm breaks, and spirits from teh steppes outside the city break through the walls and ravage the streets. Drove is killed, and Graize is literally spirited away. Brax saves himself and Spar by calling upon the God of Battles, promising to serve her if she saves the two of them. This she does, manifesting in a spectacular fashion. The next day, the boys head down to the temple, where Brax begins his training as a warrior. Spar, mind you, does not exactly feel at home, but Brax is determined to become a great hero.
Meanwhile, Graize is out on the steppes, joining with the nomads, where his command over the spirits is earning him a place in their war councils. But one of the spirits is something more. It has a plan. Graize has a plan. Incasa, the god of prophecy, has a plan. And Spar? He will do what it takes to keep himself and Brax safe. But what can a boy without any training do?
In addition to a complext plot (I’ve barely touched on half the elements in my summary), Patton has added elements that make her story stand out. For one thing, she has moved away from the more usual western-European settings. This story owes more, I think, to Greece than to the British Isles. The gods, too, are not so anthropomorphic as usual; while they bear human form, they’re much more powers than “big people”. The characters in general are well-drawn, with believable reactions and motivations and the plot is tense and goes in unexpected directions. Unfortunately, this is clearly book one of a series; it ends but not everything is resolved. I’ve no objection to visiting this world again, nor to seeing more of these characters, but I could wish for a “done in one” book.
Warning: the next two books are later volumes of series’. Discussion of such will inevitably involve some spoilers for earlier volumes. If you’re planning to read either series and haven’t yet, you might want to skip the next two. Also, at least one of these may involve spoilers for the book itself.
Harry Dresden’s got troubles. He was the cause of an ongoing war between the white council of wizards (the organization to which Harry belongs, whether he wants to or not) and the Red Court of the Vampires, and the wizards are losing. Because of those losses, Harry has moved up in the Council’s hierarchy, to the position of Warden. Because of this, he has more responsibilities now, including attending the trial and executions of black magicians, one of which he is attending as the book opens. One problem for Harry at these occurrances is that the black magicians are often kids who have come into their power with no one to teach them ethics. Another problem is that the last time Harry attended one of these shindigs, he was the one on trial. Then, Harry is informed that there is black magic going on in Chicago, and as the senior Warden in the area, it is his responsibility to investigate. Also, a vampire attack on wizards within the realm of Faerie should have brought retribution down on the vamps, but the Faerie haven’t moved. Harry has connections in both the Summer and Winter Courts of the Faerie; he should look into it. Meanwhile, in a previous adventure, Harry picked up a demon-cursed coin to prevent someone innocent from picking it up. Since then, the demon follows him around, invisible to others, trying to tempt him into evil. Then someone tries to run him off the road, and pretty much succeeds (Harry drives an old volkswagon bug, which doesn’t take much running to get off the road). Thsi brings in Harry’s friend and sometime employer, Karin Murphy, who runs the Chicago police “Special Investigations” department, to whom Harry has a more off-again than on-again attraction. And his half-brother, Thomas the white vampire (think Incubus) is acting weird. This is all set-up nicely for us in the first 40 pages of the book; to Butcher’s credit it’s not at all difficult to follow. Then the story starts.
Harry gets a call from Molly Carpenter, the daughter of his close friend Michael. Michael is a holy warrior; a Paladin in D&D terms. Every now and then he gets a call from God, picks up his holy sword, and goes off to fight the forces of evil. For obvious reasons, Harry hasn’t told him about the demon. Molly calls Harry cause she’s in jail and needs someone to bail her out. EXcept that she isn’t actually in jail; she’s just outside the jail and a friend of hers is in the jail. Bail is still needed, though. Both of them are working for Splattercon, a horror convention. The friend is in jail for allegedly assaulting someone at the convention. With the kid bailed out, Harry and Molly end up at the convention, and Harry discovers that horror-movie monsters are coming to life and attacking the convention-goers. It seems that he has found the black magic he was warned about . . .
There’s a hell of a lot going on in this series, and Butcher does manage to keep all the balls in the air smoothly. My only complaint is that I’d like to see some of the background plots resolved, since they just keep going on and he keeps introducing new elements that carry on . . . as complaints go, that’s pretty lightweight. If he just keeps on going as he is I won’t stop reading; I’d just prefer some closure.
Voice of the Gods: Age of the Five: Book Three by Trudi Canavan
Review of the First book of ths series here; of the second one here. As I noted, I was really not impressed with the first book of this trilogy, and the second one didn’t begin to throw interesting ideas at me until about midway through. This one does bring things to an interesting, albeit not as interesting as it could be, conclusion. More on that in a bit. Basically, Mirar and Emerahl have decided that Auraya is really a Wild, a naturally magically-talented individual and a potential immortal, like them, and not like the other servants of the gods. Under Emerahl’s tutelage, Auraya discovers that they may, in fact, be right, and that the gods are not what she thinks they are. And she has powers not even the gods suspect.
Meanwhile, Mirar goes to the southern continent, where they worship five different gods. This should not, if what the Northerners have always been taught is true, be possible. Are the southern priests lying? Are there five new gods? Or is something else going on? It helps that our viewpoint character for the south is herself magically incapable, thus leaving us in the dark as to whether the southern gods actually talk to their priests or not.
Then the northern gods tell their people to make war on the south. And Auraya volunteers to go in first, with the scouts. And gets captured.
Things build rapidly from there. We learn where the gods come from, what the war of the gods was about, and how it was fought. And the characters finally learn something I guessed near the end of the first book.
For me, the ending was payoff enough for the length of the series, but it may not be enough for everyone. A book-and-a-half of set-up is really too much to ask of most readers. Even Tolkien got things moving within the first book. This is, therefor, not recommended.