I do not normally review more than one book in a series at the same time. However, I feel that this trilogy reads much more like one book in three volumes and that each of the titles cannot really be treated as a stand-alone book.
Disclaimer: I was given this trilogy free by the author via a Librarything Member Giveaway, in return for an honest review.
My Rating: 3.5 / 5.0
Amazon Rating: 3.90 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 3.75 / 5.00
The Shadow at the Gate
My Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
Amazon Rating: 4.20 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.02 / 5.00
The Wicked Day
My Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
Amazon Rating: 4.40 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 3.98 / 5.00
Jute is a young thief in the city of Hearne, seat if the Regent and the center of Tormay. As an orphan he was taken in by the Juggler and put to work as a pick-pocket and burglar and it quickly became obvious that he had a special talent for avoiding the magical wards that are used to protect property. On night this talent is needed to gain entrance to a wizards’ house so that a certain box can be stolen. Jute is warned not to open the box, but to return it to his partner in crime, the Knife. However, after wriggling down the chimney and finding the box, Jute feels compelled to open it and accidentally cuts his finger on the knife inside. When he returns to the top of the chimney he hands over the box to the Knife, but is then betrayed.
Ronan of Aum is also known as the Knife, assassin and executioner of the Thieves Guild, answerable only to the Silentman who runs the Guild. He did not want to kill the boy, but that was the job he was paid to carry out. It seemed like a terrible betrayal to pull him up to the top of the chimney only to inject the poison and then push him back into the dark, but someone had paid very handsomely to retrieve that box and they wanted the job kept as secret as possible. Even so, he felt bad for the boy and his death. If only he could save up enough money to leave Hearne and live peacefully on an island in the far northwest, far away from the Guild and its casual violence.
Levoreth is the niece of the Duke of Dolan, but she is also something much older. She has an affinity with the earth, able to awaken flowers and plants and bend them to her will. She can also communicate with animals, which revere her. Her uncle is determined to attend the Autumn Fair in Hearne so that he can view the Regent’s horses, and Levoreth is to travel with him in order to possibly find a husband. However, she feels a change in the land and fears that she has been asleep and complacent for too long.
The miller’s daughter, Fen, wakes with a gasp in her home in the Rennet Valley. There is a strange smell of death in the air and an unnatural silence. She sees the barn door open and rushes down to secure it against foxes. However, inside she finds the family’s old dog with his throat ripped out and then she catches sight of a tall, thin man with a long knife and a pair of monstrous dogs coming out of her house. She seeks shelter in the hayloft, but somehow the hounds know where she is and jump up to attack. As she scrambles away from their jaws she falls down through a trapdoor into the spikes of the harrow. She is impaled but protected by the spikes as she loses consciousness.
Severan is a scholar, not a real wizard, although he knows quite a few words of power. He spends his day searching through the remains of the ruined University for the Gerecednes, a treatise on the four Anbeorun, the stillpoints of the four elements: earth, fire, water and wind. The book is supposed to contain words of power that have not been spoken since the very creation of the world. However, at the moment he is nursing the boy Jute who fell down one of the chimneys on the night that the box with the carvings of the hawk was stolen. Severan’s fellow wizard, Nio, is very upset that the box has been taken and wants to question the boy to discover where the box is now. In fact, Severan has started to worry about Nio: the man seems obsessed with the box and there is a strange smell coming from the basement.
As you can see, this is quite a complex tale, with several storylines intertwined. At first, it seems that we will be following the boy Jute through his adventures, but it quickly becomes obvious that the book has a much greater scope than that. Unfortunately, many of these elements are introduced in the first few chapters, so it does seem like we are bouncing about a country with no real understanding of what is connecting the people that we are visiting. This sense of too many threads is compounded by the introduction of ‘Ronan’ in one of the early chapters when we do not know that Ronan is another name for the Knife. However, as the first volume progresses, these disparate strands start to make more sense as the action converges on the city of Hearne and our characters begin to interact. In the end, we end up with a satisfying collection of story threads that interweave to produce an interesting pattern.
We have a fairly large cast of characters, many of whom have a name and a title, which can be a little confusing at first. Fortunately, most of the characterization is very strong, so that each person has their own ‘voice’ and they and out from one another reasonably well. Jute is basically the central character of the story, and he does show the greatest development during his journey. However, he remains a street urchin at heart and is a very believable character. His relationships with the other characters are also believable, and some of the best dialogue comes in his interplay with the Hawk. The Hawk becomes Jute’s mentor, and is as crotchety and arrogant as any wizened old Kung Fu master that I have ever seen or read. He was probably my favorite character. Ronan is also an interesting character, although he begins the story as the villain. As we get to know him he changes quite dramatically in our eyes, and eventually becomes a very honorable and courageous hero. Levoreth shows very little development during the story, but that is due to her nature: I will not say any more about this as I do not want to throw out any spoilers. These are really the main protagonists, although it takes a while for that to become obvious.
The secondary characters are also enjoyable. Severan and several of the old scholars are surprisingly courageous and resourceful in difficult situations. However, Nio is a fine example of how good intentions can be perverted by the desire for power at all costs. He begins the story as a man teetering on the brink of falling to the ‘Dark Side’ and his journey is a tale of obsession and remorselessness. Fen plays a much smaller part in the story than I had expected, although she does draw us into the house of Owain Gawinn, the Captain of the Guard in Hearne. He is a pragmatic man and charismatic leader who tries to protect the country whilst he is constantly rebuffed by the allegedly impoverished Regent. Possibly my favorite of the secondary characters is a ghost that attaches himself to Jute part way through Volume 2 and then stays with him until the bitter end. He is very old and so has forgotten who he is and most of the useful knowledge that he once had. He constantly drones on about any given subject at great length, only stopping occasionally to bemoan his situation. The Hawk gets very frustrated with him and they make a great double act.
The world building is well done and we are rarely presented with piles of exposition. There is an interesting magic system based upon the use of words of power that can be used to take control of things. I especially liked the idea of the magical wards, which had a variety of uses varying from simple alarms when a door was opened to disguising a person’s identity. We are also provided with a creation myth and a far portion of history relating the battle between the Anbeorun and the Darkness that seeks to destroy all life. Elements of this did seem a little similar to Tolkien’s creation story, as outlined in The Silmarillion, but was sufficiently different to keep me interested. One aspect of this world that I particularly liked was the interaction with animals. Some, like the Hawk, were able to speak to all humans, but mostly we saw exchanges between Levoreth and the various animals that she encountered. There was one particularly delightful scene with her helping a squirrel by asking a tree to grow a branch towards another tree so that it could gather nuts without crossing the ground and being harassed by foxes.
On the whole this was a fantasy with some elements of epic scale, such as battles and whole nations plunged into conflict. However, in the great tradition of Tolkien, it kept a firm grounding in the actions of individuals and their connection to the homes and families.
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