The Quarters Novels Volume Two: No Quarter/The Quartered Sea by Tanya Huff
We’ve skipped a book, since I went from reading single volumes to reading omnibi. Briefly, then, in the second book focus changed from Shkoder to the Havakeen Empire, a large state to the south of Shkoder. The Empire, though larger, is not evil and prefers taking over neighbouring states peacefully rather than by conquest. Of course, they do maintain several standing armies full of troops from the merest grunts to the creme de la creme, highly-trained assassins. More about the assassins later.
A generation back an Imperial Prince married a princess of Shkoder. Now he’s the Emperor and she is his Empress. Because she missed home, she was allowed to bring a couple of Bards with her, and they have been slowly expanding their influence. Now they are allowed to search for people with Bardic talents, as the Emperor believes that Imperial Bards will be loyal to him first, and to the Bardic Hall after.
Now, about those assassins: highly trained from a young age, they are separated from their families and taught to think of the Army as their only family. Regarded almost more as weapons than people, they are never allowed to act without explicit orders.
Vireyda Magaly, popularly known as Vree, is one such assassin. With her two-years younger brother, Bannon, she forms a team that is regarded as the best around (yes, the team-up with her brother is, in fact, a violation of that whole, “think of the army as your only family” thing. Only the facts that they are a great team and that the general who leads the assassin corps pulled some strings for them (and watches over them, intending to take them down if they get out of line) allows it). They are assigned at the start of the second book (Fifth Quarter) to kill a rebel governor in one of the Empire’s more remote provinces. Though the army has him beseiged, he’s holding them off well, so the assassins are sent in.
On the way into the fortress, Vree is separated from Bannon and isn’t able to catch up before he reaches the target. Arriving in the Governor’s room, she finds an old man apparently dying, but no sign of Bannon. But she recognizes the spirit in the old man’s eyes, and that is Bannon. And as he dies, she catches the spirit before it can move on. As it seems that the Governor has taken Bannon’s body, the two twins in one body set out after him.
Unfortunately, when they catch up to him there isn’t much they can do. He’d be driven out of Bannon’s body if they kill it, but then where will Bannon go? Fortunately(?), the ex-governor has an offer for them: he’s gotten used to living in luxury. He intends to go to the capital city, find an Imperial Prince, and take over his body. If Vree (and, by extension, Bannon) help him, he will leave Bannon’s body alive and let him move back in (as it were). Vree and Bannon are both kind of conflicted about this, since it’s treason, and all, but they go along with it until they can think of anything else.
The Governor, obviously, was not always the Governor. Many lifetimes ago, he was Gyhard i’Stevana, a Shkoden (Shkodan? Shkodian? Shkoderino?) who learned to launch his spirit from body to body, but only when his old body was on the brink of death. While this makes him sound fairly evil, as Vree and Bannon travel with him he comes across as, well, human. Vree comes to find herself liking him, which Bannon, who has always been the centre of his own universe and Vree’s as well, does not approve of.
Then they arrive at the Imperial Capital and the Prince Gyhard wanted is gone. He was kidnapped by dark forces and they have to go after him, accompanied by Karlene, a bard from Shkoder who the Prince had a crush on and who was with him when he was taken. Karlene also developes a bit of a crush on Vree as the story goes on.
So, to spoil things as little as possible for the previous book but still be able to discuss the start of this one, when our heroes rescue the Prince and Gyhard leaves Bannon’s body (allowing Bannon back in), he chooses not to take over the Prince’s body, instead starting to die . . . until Vree grabs his spirit and holds on, carrying it off, as it were, in her body.
As a reward for rescuing the Prince, Vree and Bannon are pardoned for deserting from the army, but they have outgrown the military (or at least, their former place in it). Bannon stays on at the court as the Prince’s bodyguard (and possibly lover; it seems to me to be hinted at in some places) and Vree goes on to Shkoder. The Bards, it seems, can see that she has two spirits in her (they start to consider the human spirit as the “fifth kigh”; hence the title of the second book, Fifth Quarter) and are fascinated by it. Vree is really hoping that the Bards and Healers of Shkoder can help Gyhard find a new body and a way into it without anyone having to die for it.
The journey occurs without problems (just kidding! They are attacked by pirates and Vree turns probable defeat into certain victory by making an impossible leap to the pirate ship and killing their notorious leader, making her a hero to the local islanders and a nightmare to the pair of imperial merchants traveling on the same ship), and on arrival at Elbasan they are taken to the Bardic Hall, where they meet Magda, a healer apprentice who can heal the 5th Kigh. She can do this because she is the daughter of Annice and Pjerin from the first book, and her first act upon being born was to heal her half-brother, Gerek. She is the only one who can help them find a new home for Gyhard and a balance between their two lives while they wait.
But, before anything can be settled, an ancient evil emerges that Gyhard feels responsible for (it’s the same evil as in the previous book. They didn’t deal with it thoroughly enough). They set off to try to find and deal, followed by Maggi (soon traveling with them). The throne of Shkoder is in crisis, but they send pursuers after them: Gerek and, in a surprise appearance, Bannon. But even if Vree can defeat her brother, can she fight something that hurts the soul just to look at?
I did note, in reading this book for the first time, that it is the second of Huff’s books in which a character’s mother shows up in the nick of time to rescue the character from danger (the other was Blood Pact, which came out three years before. I make nothing of this, I just find it interesting.
Huff does her usual excellent characterization here, even Bannon (antagonist) and the villain come off as sympathetic (if you prefer your villains blacker than black (metaphorically speaking) then Huff is not your writer). While some of the themes are similar to the previous book, it’s really more of a continuation than a completely separate novel and thus continues, IMHO, to explore similar or same themes, albeit from different angles.
This book also features The Quartered Sea, book four of the series, and one of my least favourite Huff stories. I dislike it enough that I didn’t bother re-reading it this time.
So, No Quarter is recommended highly; The Quartered Sea is not.
Long Live The Queen: the immortal empire book three by Kate Locke
Book three of three, as far as I can tell. Kate Locke is a Canadian woman living in Connecticut and writing under no less that four names.
I don’t want to write another whole book summing up the first two. So I’m just gonna say that it’s the approximate present in a world in which Vampire Queen Victoria still rules Great Britain. There is high tech, but it’s deliberately old-fashioned-looking (Vicky doesn’t like too much change). There are vampires, werewolves and goblins, all given a nice psuedo-scientific origin. There is both action and politics. The hero is Alexandra (Xandra) Vardan, a red-headed half-vamp who starts the series looking for her missing sister and ends it facing off against the kind of villains who want to transform the world in a probably bad way. And that is my only real complaint about the series: I’m sure it’s spoiling nothing to say that the good guys win, but it isn’t clear if they defeated the bad-guys’ plan globally, or only locally (which would still be losing).
Anyway, the whole thing is recommended, if any of that sounds interesting. But you want to start with God Save The Queen, the first book.