Saturday, September 4, 2010
Posted by PeterWilliam at 7:00 AM
The Twilight Herald, by Tom Lloyd
Format: Paperback, 503
Publisher: Pyr, ©2009
Series: The Twilight Reign - Book 2
Copy: out of pocket
Back of the book: Lord Bahl is dead and the young white-eye, Isak, stands in his place; less than a year after being plucked from obscurity and poverty, the charismatic new Lord of the Farlan finds himself unprepared to deal with the attempt on his life that now spells war, and the possibility of rebellion waiting for him at home.
Now the eyes of the Land turn to the minor city of Scree, which could soon be obliterated as the new Lord of the Farlan flexes his powers. Scree is suffering under an unnatural summer drought and is surrounded by volatile mercenary armies that may be its only salvation.
This is a strange sanctuary for a fugitive abbot to flee to, but he is only the first of many to be drawn there. Kings and princes, lords and monsters - all walk the sun-scorched streets.
As elite soldiers clash after dark and actors perform cruel and subversive plays that work their way into the hearts of the audience, the city begins to tear itself apart - yet even chaos can be scripted.
There is a malevolent will at work in Scree, one that has a lesson for the entire Land: nations can be manipulated, prophecies perverted, and Gods denied.
Nothing lies beyond the reach of a shadow, and no matter how great a man's power, there are some things he cannot be protected from.
After having truly enjoyed book one, a better than average debut, book two is as much a pleasant surprise as the first was. The Twilight Herald expanded, in many ways, upon the foundations established in The Stormcaller.
The voice and narrative of the tale remains third-person, as much such tales are and Lloyd's style remains relaxed, if not cavalier. The down side to that is that it becomes difficult to take the darker and more brooding elements seriously.
That having been said, the cast of characters grows mildly, while the book's POVs expand heavily. The various regions, plot lines, characters and agendas reveals a surprising jump in scope. If you like, think of it as Lalazan - Malazan's little brother.
After book one, the reader should be readily familiar with Isak, a young, white-eyed wagon rat, elevated by the Gods to the position of Krann among the Farland nation. A white-eye (stronger, larger, greater longevity, powerful instrinsic and instinctive magical ability) cannot viability interbreed with your garden variety human being, although they are created by garden variety human beings, although the occurence is rare enough. Unfortunately, a white-eyed child spells death for the mother as they are physically large enough to kill the woman in labor. The various gods of Lloyd's realm select young white-eye candidates to become heir to the throne (i.e. Krann), while the current ruler reigns. Book one is exclusively about Isak, the Krann of Farland. At the end of book one, Isak becomes Lord of the Farlan and it is here that book two begins.
However, book two reveals to us the white-eye leader of the south - Kastan Styrax. White-eyes can, however, produce viable offspring among themselves. Styrax has a son of his own who serves as his Krann. Styrax is an experienced ruler, conqueror and planner. Styrax has long planned, flawlessly it would seem, for all he now attempts. While he appears equal to any task, someone or something has taken great pains, of colossal effort, to possess his son. Can the brutal Styrax save his son? If so, will it be worth having saved whatever creature remains as his son?
Morgien, the 'man of many spirits,' knows more than is revealed. Having invited many other souls in to share existence with his own, Morgien has come to understand many things others dare not inquire after, including the true nature of possession.
Zhia Vukotic has seen it all, literally. Having been doomed by the Gods, along with her brothers, to walk the earth without aging, yet being perpetually held sane and overpoweringly sympathetic to the suffering of mortals. It is a curse that burns, literally as well as figuratively - the Vukotics are vampires. Zhia remembers a time when she was mortal and loved. She was the consort to the last true king and, coincidentally, most powerful ruler to have ever lived.
King Emin of Narkang, rules a region of half-breeds cast off by the tribes of men, fashions many things of his own - his kingdom being perhaps the easiest. The King of Narkang has already acquired knowledge of things deeper than most dare and, yet still, delves ever deeper.
The ghost of the last true king, Aryn Bwr, is anything but peaceful. In an age where the stories about the savage, brutal and barbaric elves streaming forth from the Wastes are treated like poorly aged fiction, the ghost of their most fierce member, the last true king, wanders aimlessly while once again seeking power.
And what of the gods who have placed all of this into motion several millenia ago? They are in hiding, or so it would appear. What should happen to the gods if their believers are turned? Will they only become a shortened scream that has no voice? Azaer, a shadow worshipped by some, certainly thinks so and means to find out. And so a cult of the shadow grows, quietly and slowly, in power. In fact, many thousands of years ago, it is said that a shadow spoke to Aryn Bwr and handed him twelve weapons of power. In those days - the days of the Great Wars - gods died, or so the legends say. In fact, the legends say gods died horribly.
The significant, but measured increase in backstory, characters and plot threads truly adds weight to this series. Thus far, each book has had a naturally resolved ending. However, each ending seems to remind the reader that winning numerous battles is no guarantee of winning the war or enjoying the victory if you did.
As of this review (typed on 8/26/2010), the fourth book - The Ragged Man - has just been released. It is a read that is eagerly anticipated.