Crown of Renewal by Elizabeth Moon
Crown of Renewal by Elizabeth Moon has an interesting moment. One character is approached with the question, “Are you the One?” Her reply is equivocal but she asks who’s asking. The reply is revealing. “I’m one of the ones waiting for the One.” So get your pills ready because this is not at all the book I was expecting which, if you think about it, is either high praise or flat condemnation for failing to provide the expected content (with not much room left in the middle for any other view). This is the fifth and final volume in the Paladin’s Legacy sequence. The chronology is somewhat confusing because the narrative arcs start some three months before the end of Limits of Power. This allows readers to catch up with what was happening to other characters out of sight when the last book was ending. From a strictly technical point of view, this highlights the problems of maintaining continuity with multiple character arcs in a long series. It also emphasises the need for people to have read the earlier books in this series otherwise you stand little chance of understanding what’s going on.
In Lyonya, Kieri and Arian have produced twins which, if nothing else, gives them a family to protect. In Tsaia, Mikeli Mahieran is still trying to decide what to do about the regalia sitting in his treasury, while Camwyn Mahieran worries how he will fit into the scheme of things now that Dorrin Verrakai has taken his brother Beclan off to safety. Arvid Semminson is developing both academically and in magic power. Arcolin is also settling into his new role with the gnomes. So we have the continuing political questions between the elves, the gnomes and the humans, and the emerging problem of how the humans should react to more of their children showing up with mage powers. Up to this point, the largely unseen catalyst for much of the military manoeuvring has been the threat of the forces gathering in the south under the leadership of Alured. So I confess to being all fired up for war. I expected Alured to lead his land and naval groups in a combined assault. The interaction between practical logistics and tactics on one side, and mage powers of varying degrees on the other is always fascinating. Except this is not the primary focus. Indeed, because of an overreach I need not discuss here, Alured unexpectedly finds himself sidelined. Although there is some fighting, it’s very much not the point of the exercise.
I suppose the best way to capture the spirit of this book as the final contribution to this particular plot sequence, is that it’s about the characters first, and the situations second. This is not to say the plot dynamics are not exciting or somehow unimportant. Rather it’s about how the individuals react in each situation. So, for example, we do get to see some of the action from Alured’s point of view and, in a sense, he emerges as rather a victim with delusions of grandeur he’s never going to realise. Although he starts off quite dominant in the first major military engagement, that’s only because he has no way of knowing how his most recent misdeed has been repaid. Similarly, Camwyn is seriously injured early on and our time with him is very low key as he slowly heals. This should tell you there’s a rather meditative quality to this book. There are deaths, some more deserved than others. But for all the major plot lines reach points of resolution, this is not the final book that could be written about these characters in this world. In that sense, this is more a historical series which slowly tracks the shifting political situations and relationships between different groups of people. This may be a convenient place to pause for now, but Elizabeth Moon could easily move forward if she wished.
This makes Crown of Renewal slightly difficult to value. It’s clearly high fantasy with epic pretensions but everything is scaled down to a human, elf or gnome level for them to agree or disagree, fight or resolve their problems peacefully. So don’t pick this up if you have not read the preceding books, and don’t expect battles with mages mixing into the combat scenes. The fact many humans have suddenly begun to manifest some powers is relevant to the plot, but not for the purposes of fighting set-piece battles. That’s still done in the tried and trusted way of hacking at each other with swords and anything else to hand. I’m therefore in the positive camp. There’s a real sense of weight to some of the characters. Even those who go through transformative journeys develop or evolve along different but equally important lines. Indeed, the one character who formally identifies himself as an agent of transformation is very discriminating in whom he agrees to help and the ways in which he helps them.
This means Paladin’s Legacy is a series in which people get their just deserts. By this, I’m not suggesting a crude morality tale where the good get better and are rewarded. Rather people are given the chance to make decisions and live with the consequences. Fortunately even those who make mistakes can still advance so long as their motives are reasonable. Complexity and shades of grey are therefore the bones of the plot. Those in leadership roles struggle to fulfill their duties. Leaders must protect those who give their personal loyalty and follow them. Equally they have personal feelings and a natural desire to protect their own families. These duties can sometimes conflict. Those at the bottom of the social heap also survive as best they can, trying to stay neutral in the often chaotic situations around them. If neutrality is impossible, they pick whichever side looks likely to win or try to run away. Curiously even those who run can be shown wise and find their own rewards. Heroism and dependence can be compatible. It can also be right to be compassionate to those felt to be in need yet be unforgiving in punishment if those helped later prove undeserving. No one can know the future and each individual must make the best decisions in the light of information available. So for those who have read the earlier books, Crown of Renewal is understated and, because of that, a rather impressive contribution to the fantasy canon.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.