I saw Elspeth Cooper in action at Fantasycon, where her sharp wit and even sharper intelligence were evident in the panels she took part in. So I was delighted when I saw this offering on the shelves and immediately scooped it up, despite the fact that it was the second in the series.
The future holds nothing but blood and death and Teia fears there is nothing she can do about it. Her clan is riding to war, but her secret, untrained gift of foretelling has shown her they are riding to their doom. Meanwhile Gair is mourning his past but there is no time to dwell on his grief or hunger for revenge. Pursuing an artefact from the Founding Wars, he travels deep into the hostile southern deserts, where religious tensions are rising...
That's as much of the rather chatty blurb I'm willing to divulge, but as you can already gather, we are in the realms of epic Fantasy in a familiar medieval setting. So is there anything to distinguish this offering from the many others out there with similar storylines? Well, it might not break any major new ground -- but that doesn't prevent it from being a really strongly written character-led story.
The tale is mostly in the heads of the two protagonists, with a couple of small slices in the head of the 'big bad'. I wasn't totally convinced by those interludes -- he seemed rather two-dimensional, especially when placed alongside both Gair and Teia. And it is when reading these sections that this book springs to life.
I particularly loved Teia's story. Cooper gives her a compelling storyline and provides a wonderful slice of the nomadic life of the tribes. Her depiction of their daily routine and how Teia gets swept up in a powerplay by a driven ambitious woman and a minor warlord who becomes her mouthpiece. Without losing any of the pace or tension, we get a ringside seat to this drama. I would just mention that is you have a pre-teen or early teen who enjoys your Fantasy offerings, there are a couple of sex scenes in this book that make it unsuitable for this age group -- at the very least check them out first before passing it over. There is depth and passion in the characterisation that made me really care about Teia and kept me focused on her story.
So did I skim Gair's sections to get back to Teia? No -- because Cooper is good enough that I also cared about her other main protagonist, despite the fact that this was obviously the main character featured in the first book, Songs of the Earth. Gair has also got edges -- and there are times when I wanted to shake him very hard. But that's just fine -- what that shows is that I was very invested in him and that Cooper has pulled off the nifty trick of having her main protagonist making an obvious mistake. I'm all in favour of that -- far too often, main characters seem to be able to dance through highly confusing, dangerous situations without putting a foot wrong. As well as giving them a sense of invulnerability, it also makes them a whole lot less believable.
Am I going to track down the third book, The Raven's Shadow? Oh yes. Trinity Rising managed to hook my attention all the way through -- and managing that in epic Fantasy, which isn't my favourite sub-genre by a long country mile. I'll also go looking for Songs of the Earth -- and if you do enjoy your Fantasy set in a medieval backdrop with enjoyable, well depicted protagonists and believable dilemmas, then I suggest you do the same.
SJ Higbee online