Posts Tagged ‘Paladin’s Legacy’

Crown of Renewal by Elizabeth Moon

May 21, 2014 4 comments

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.

Elizabeth Moon

Elizabeth Moon

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.

For a review of an excellent collection by Elizabeth Moon, see Moon Flights. The others in this series are Kings of the North and Limits of Power.

Kings of the North by Elizabeth Moon

April 30, 2011 3 comments

When you pitch into creating a world where magic works, there’s an immediate problem for the author. First you have you write a set of rules for the magic to work, and then you have to apply them consistently. There’s nothing more annoying than arbitrariness where, to enable a key player to achieve an objective or escape from danger, a previously unsuspected ability is revealed like a rabbit out of a hat. By this, I’m not talking about remembering a recipe for curing boils as opposed to a love filtre, or suddenly discovering a long-lost spell book. Let’s say we’ve started off with the magic based on the ability to manipulate the energy in the human body, e.g. permitting the creation of fireballs. We need to know how destructive this power is, how far the ball may be projected, whether using it tires the magician so limiting the number of uses per hour, and so on. What we don’t want is for a demon to wander into view and ask a tired magician if she needs some help with the next ball. Unless, that is, a religious or comparable framework has been established to establish the relationship between humans, demons, and any Gods that happen to be around and capable of interfering in the human realm.

Kings of the North by Elizabeth Moon continues the Paladin’s Legacy trilogy which started with Oath of Fealty. Both are set in the world first described in the Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy, but there’s a steady increase in the level of magic. The first trilogy to some extent underplays the practical side of magical abilities. We know the Paladins and God-touched have powers, but the primary focus is on getting things done without having to rely too much on supernatural forces. That’s all changing as the characters we are following learn more about the way magic is woven into the fabric of their world. In this, Elizabeth Moon is avoiding the trap of being authorially omniscient and infodumping to fill in any missing background as we go along. She’s maintaining the points of view, so we learn at the same pace as the characters. This is playing fair with the readers.

Elizabeth Moon pleased to be backed by books

So where are we in story terms? Having been identified as the rightful heir by Paksenarrion, Kieri Phelan is now established as the King Lyonya, a land of humans and elves he is supposed to rule jointly with his grandmother. His personal life is complicated because everyone wants him to marry and produce an heir. Politically, the elves are in stand-off mode and there are troubles with Pargun, the southern neighbour. Dorrin Verrakai continues to make progress as a Duke working for King Mikeli in Tsaia. Having defended the country against the blood magic of her relatives, she’s now trusted to take responsibility for the army and the general defence of the land. Janderlir Arcolin is on military manoeuvres against an enemy that’s looking increasingly well-organised. This is surprising since these mercenaries are supposed to be working for Alured the Black, a mere brigand of possible piratical origin. Worse, the “enemy” seems to be diversifying into economic warfare by undermining the common Guild currency. While Arvid Semminson rather unexpectedly finds himself in the thick of things when he visits Fin Panir but, as always, is well-prepared for all emergencies.

Elizabeth Moon strikes an interesting balance between the political, the military and the magical. There’s a tough-minded practicality to the detail of how to run a kingdom, get a noble’s house and estates up and running, and train, equip and provision an army for real work and not some idle sport. The magic is also increasingly relevant with the different levels of skill on display between both the different races, and the ordinary practitioner and a mage. Finally, the land force called the taig is becoming an issue.

The writing style is pleasing, managing to pack in an amazing amount of detail without getting boring. It’s obvious that an enormous amount of time and energy has been invested in the creation of this world — a fact evidenced by the presence of four earlier novels based in it. This always presents a danger because, if the author becomes too distracted by the delight of adding in yet more facts, it can derail the pacing of the novel. There are one or two times when the action slows, as in the inconvenience to Kieri Phelan occasioned by the unexpected arrival of the two princesses. But, for the most part, the narrative is pushing forward and the factual information does turn out to be useful.

Overall, this is a nicely judged fantasy, continuing the story arcs from the earlier books seamlessly, and contriving to build to an interesting climax where Gitres is more directly involved and we get our first clear view of dragons (note that a dragon from this world also appears in the excellent “Judgment” collected in Moon Flights). This all presages more active Gods, particularly because Achrya is trying to upset the balance of power. It’s also reassuring that some of the supernaturally-talented can be fallible. Too often authors want those with superpowers to be super decision-makers as well, whereas Kings of the North has everyone’s character and motivations nicely under control. In other circumstances this would be high fantasy but, as written, it’s more a “don’t stand there like a lump, if you need to go, dig a latrine” kinda fantasy and all the better for it. I found all this highly enjoyable and recommend it for those who have read at least some of the earlier books. Starting off in the middle of long-running series is never as satisfying.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

For a review of an excellent collection by Elizabeth Moon, see Moon Flights. Later books in this series are Crown of Renewal and Limits of Power

%d bloggers like this: