Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Written Word Wed. - Truth Rises With the Phoenix

Look, a newly written book review! Will wonders never cease? Much like I did for The Farseer Trilogy and The Liveship Traders, I've decided to just do an overview of the entire series, rather than just focusing on the last book; after all, if you're read the first six, you probably don't need my urging to read the conclusion, and if you haven't read any of them, then reading about book seven (a) won't make much sense and (b) might be a bit spoilery.

Crown of Stars Series by Kate Elliot

  1. King's Dragon
  2. Prince of Dogs
  3. The Burning Stone
  4. Child of Flame
  5. The Gathering Storm
  6. In the Ruins
  7. Crown of Stars

This series is set in a world loosely inspired by medieval Europe. While the action ranges of a large span of time and encompasses a wide range of threats, the bulk of the plots revolve around three characters of uncertain parentage: Prince Sanglant, eldest son of King Henry and leader of the King's Dragons, barred from the throne due to his illegitimate birth, blessed (and cursed) by his otherworldly mother to never die at the hands of man or woman; Liath, daughter of a reclusive mathematicus, who enters into the service of the King's Eagles in order to escape the grasp of the treacherous and power hungry Hugh of Austra who alone suspects the power sleeping within her; and Alain, a common born orphan promised to a monastic life who finds himself caught up in great events after he is claimed as a pawn of the mystical Lady of Battles. These three are thrust into a world of violence, intrigue, and sorcery, as Henry's kingdom faces threats from within and without, ranging from treasonous nobles to the savage inhuman Eika to the ghostly Lost Ones to the secretive sorcerers known as the Seven Sleepers. By the end of the series, the entire face of the world has been changed by the events plaguing the heroes, and none escape totally unscathed.

The Crown of Stars series is definitely an Epic Fantasy, with Alain and Liath both fitting the role of "a nobody thrust into greatness"; in fact, a good deal of time is spent detailing their difficulties in adapting to their new positions and the burdens and obligations that accompany them. While a majority of the adversaries in the series are not so much "evil" as they are driven by overpowering needs for power, vengeance, etc., making them at times sympathetic, there are some villains who are villains through-and-through, with no real shades of grey. While the world of the series is inspired by medieval Europe, Elliot has stated that there aren't necessarily 1:1 correlations between any of the countries/peoples/events of her books and our own history; I found it interesting that the teaching of the phoenix dubbed by the church in the books as heresy was actually very close to the Christian belief of the resurrection of Christ. As often happens in Fantasy series, the presence of magic is sparse in the beginning, but has become commonplace by the end.

CoS is an excellent series. The bulk of the characters are fully three-dimensional, and even those that at times come across as one note generally are revealed to have a bit more depth to them. The political and personal relationships in the series were, at times, complex; in a way, I wish I had waited until the whole series was published before reading them since, having read the first four books back in 2003, there were definitely some connections between characters that had faded from my mind by the time I finished the series. Trying to keep straight exactly who was the heir to what, and how exactly so-and-so was related to so-and-so would occasionally bog the books down for me, but I think if I had read them all at once it would have been much easier to keep straight. I appreciated the fact that the series didn't all revolve around just one over-arching threat; in a way, the structure reminded me of Babylon 5, with the first books sowing the seeds of a larger threat, the middle books dealing with the threat, and the last ones dealing with the aftermath.

My biggest (heck, practically my only) complaint about the series can be summed up in one word: Hugh. I don't believe I've ever hated a character in any medium as much as I hated Hugh of Austra. The whole "nobody believes he's evil because he's so danged good-looking" thing drove me insane; yes, it fit with the religious culture of the world, which was mired in the "bad things only happen to bad people" belief, but it still grated as time after time I had to see this slimy, smug, murderous, abusive, sociopathic priest escape his just desserts; while his eventual fate might fit the idea of "poetic justice," I still would have much preferred a good old fashioned lynching back in the first book.

I feel like I’m selling the series short here, but I don’t want to give too much away. So, I’ll just finish up by saying I highly recommend this to fans of fantasy fiction.