It’s confession time for CanaryTheFirst: series intimidate me. Trilogies, no problem. Anything longer, and I start getting nervous. Why?
Because I know that the moment I latch on to the first of whatever-have-you, I will be reading the entire series, first to twenty-first. Somehow, I will find the sequel as an audiobook on my mp3 player. The third of the series will clamber up from the shelf and into my bag. The fourth and fifth will end up on my desk at home. And the sixth–well, what’s the harm? Seven and eight follow on its heels.
So when I reluctantly picked up the first Mercy Thompson book (werewolves, urban fantasy, spunky female lead, yes please), I had already made a list of friends to call for an intervention. And when I realized Moon Called was not-bad-at-all, it just fed into my obsessive reading tendencies.
Exactly one month after I posted my first review of Moon Called, I’m back with more.
In the last 29 days, I’ve read the entire Mercy Thompson series (Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, Bone Crossed, Silver Borne, River Marked), swallowed the Alpha & Omega series (On the Prowl, Cry Wolf, Hunting Ground), gnawed through the Raven series opening (Raven’s Shadow), and finished the first Hurog book (Dragon Bones). I even picked up Patricia Briggs’ 1993 debut novel (Masques) before my library hold on River Marked came through and derailed that effort. I’m still waiting on a couple more books, but it’s probably time for a review–or ten.
I’ll start with the two classic-style fantasies, Dragon Bones and Raven’s Shadow:
Dragon Bones (2002) opens with a plot concept that startled me with its familiarity. Ward is the oldest son of the Lord of Hurog, forced to pretend to be the family idiot to weather his father’s abuse and paranoia. (A decision very similar to that of Ilya, from Mercedes Lackey’s 1997 retelling of the Russian fairy-tale in Firebird.) But here, the story catches its stride and the sense of familiarity fades.
When Ward’s father dies, the young man inherits the castle, the cursed and dying fields outside, a mysterious ghost only he can see, and the tenuous right to rule. But as far as anyone knows, Ward’s an addled fool and the secret in the caves beneath Hurog Keep is worth killing for.
Written in third person, the story follows Ward and a select few other characters through exile, war, court intrigues, and betrayals. Joe Manganiello’s reading of the audiobook version brought out the book’s humor and wit, and the solid pacing had me listening enthusiastically right up to the very unexpected conclusion.
Raven’s Shadow (2004) takes a very different, epic approach to fantasy, following characters over the course of years. Seraph is a Raven mage, one of the few who are born to fight against the dark remnants of an apocalypse long ago. Instead, she falls in love with Tier, a soldier, and settles down–something unheard of among her (“Traveler”) kin. But when, years later, Tier is killed, Seraph is forced to face what she is to protect her children.
Though Raven’s Shadow is also told in third person, the narrative keeps an aloof distance more befitting the epic scope it tries to encompass. That lead to the major difficulty I had with the piece. The entire first half of the novel plodded. If not for late night inertia and a general reluctance to waste the wee hours of the morning on sleep, I might have stopped reading. Somewhere around that halfway mark, though, the story picks up, promising all sorts of good things for the sequel.
Conclusion: If you’re looking for a character-driven fantasy with an element of who’s-pulling-strings (the fantasy equivalent of a whodunnit), I wholeheartedly recommend Dragon Bones (five fluffy canaries, right there). If you enjoy paced epic fantasy where the characters are already comfortable in their skin and are forced to take up arms once again against evil (no rest for the virtuous), bet on Raven’s Shadow (three and a half canaries there: one canary spooked at the beginning; opaque characterization lopped off half-a-canary later).