Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Kings of the North" by Elizabeth Moon

(cover image from

Kings of the North (2011) by Elizabeth Moon is the sequel to Oath of Fealty, which is itself a sequel to her Deed of Paksennarion fantasy trilogy. Please see my earlier review for the details.

Because this book is very similar. Well, it's just a continuation of the story which ended so very abruptly then. But my comments are probably going to feel like deja vu.

On the one hand, this is another entertaining fantasy. If you liked the previous books, you should like this one. (If you haven't read them, don't start here.) On the other hand,... it's not without its flaws.

What's fascinating is that you've got good people taking on new, unexpected responsibilities. Most of the characters are mercenaries or former mercenaries. Now, one has become a king, one has become a duke, and one has become a count.

None of them expected this. None of them prepared for it. But they're determined to do the best job they can in dangerous times. That's a great storyline.

But it was very disappointing that Moon took the magical superhero path instead of sticking with Dorrin's training and experience as a military leader. And in this book, to some extent, King Kieri also seems to be following that path.

It wasn't so bad with Paksennarion, because that was supernatural magic. The gods, good and evil, bestow their blessings on people who deserve it. But other kinds of magical power are just an accident of birth. It says nothing about someone as a person, but that she was lucky at birth.

And when you've got people who've worked hard to master their organizational, fighting, and leadership skills, why not stick with that? Why go the magical superhero route? Maybe it's just personal taste, but I'm still disappointed with that.

There's more. In the previous books, there's no romance at all. There's not even any sex. These people, both men and women - and mercenaries, no less - barely seem to recognize that there's an opposite sex.

That's OK. I can enjoy romance in fiction, but I don't require it. And clearly Moon's talents lie in other directions, because she fails completely at writing a romance into this one.

The new king is in his 50's, and still grieving for his wife and children who were killed long ago. He recognizes that he must marry and provide an heir, but he can't see marrying some inexperienced young girl half his age. But the king himself is still remarkably young and vigorous, because he's a half-elf, and they age much more slowly than normal human beings.

Well, the solution is obvious. We readers can see that, so why can't he? After all, he lives in that environment of elves and humans. So it's completely unbelievable that he can't understand even the basics of his own world.

And when he does recognize reality - finally - he goes from casual appreciation to all-consuming love just instantly, and so does his love interest. Lust I could understand, but this is supposed to be love. Well, I see why Moon doesn't normally include romance in her books, because she's remarkably bad at it.

Finally - and this is really nitpicking, I suppose - did she have to introduce dragons into the story. Honestly, it's like she felt she needed to include every fantasy cliche. Wouldn't want to accidentally skip one, huh?

OK, this is high fantasy - elves and dwarves and gods. That's just what it is, and I have no problem with that. But she's written multiple volumes about this world, and... all of a sudden, there are dragons, too? Was that really necessary?

Well, these things bothered me, but maybe they won't bother you. Besides, I have to admit that this is still an entertaining story. Elizabeth Moon is a skilled author, and she's filled this book with appealing characters. I enjoyed the read and I'll definitely get the next book.

But it could have been much better. It could have been just superb. The multiple characters, with several of them taking on unexpected and very challenging responsibilities, working hard to do their best,... it's just a great storyline.

So the flaws are all the more disappointing, I guess. It wasn't a bad book, not at all. If it had been a bad book, I probably wouldn't feel so disappointed with it.

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