I know I started out my review of the previous volume, Dangerous Waters, with a list of copy editing (and other) gripes, and a complaint about the editors at Solaris. They've done a similarly sloppy job this time. I mean, maybe no one cares. But their readers deserve better than this.
- Page 30: missing words. "Besides, there was no point her starting..." Also an incorrectly used semicolon farther down the page.
- Page 39: We're in Jilseth's head. So how do we know that Planir is savoring the scent of almonds? POV mess-up, here.
- Page 64: "most stupid." The correct superlative form is "stupidest." This is NOT an option, people. It's the proper use of the English language.
- Page 85: We're in Jilseth's head again, but we hear about Planir contemplating the garden. Also, neither Planir nor Jilseth is going to think about how the pears and apples and so forth are going to be made into syrups, or about the garden walls. They've been in this garden dozens of times before. (I don't walk down the steps and say, "my dog pees in that spot every day," you know? Even though she does.)
- Page 355: missing words again. "Wizards have attacked, their homes and their businesses threatened." I think it's supposed to be "wizards have been attacked." It totally doesn't make sense any other way.
- Page 406: should be "scaly," not "scaley."
- Page 424 and subsequent pages: Continually referring to people taking part in the Council by different identifiers ("the elegant red-gowned magewoman" in one sentence and the person's name in the next, and so forth; some of these people are NOT major characters and it's easy to forget who is actually talking); also, there are a lot of inappropriate verbs in speaker attributions, and a LOT of adverbs. It's just sloppy.
- Page 470: a missing period at the end of a sentence (this is not the only missing period in the book)
- Page 524: "It was her." Nope. "It was she." Pronoun should be in subject case.
That being said, I actually did enjoy the book. It picks up where Dangerous Waters left off, with Anskal ensconced on his island in the Aldabreshin archipelago. Corrain is worried that the mages of Hadrumal will know he's responsible for taking the guy there, which is funny because the mages of Hadrumal seem to have nothing better to do with their time than scry and watch Anskal's antics. Oh, but they can't listen to his conversations, because he might detect the magic. Our viewpoint characters are again Jilseth, Corrain, and Zurenne, though Zurenne's story is mostly dropped halfway through because it doesn't have much to do with the final confrontation. We also have Hosh as a viewpoint character for the first time; he tells us about Anskal's activities. Anskal has driven the corsairs off his island with magic; he's discovered that many jewels and such worn by the corsairs have magical properties. He collects these items, and some mageborn among the crews.
No small part of the book is devoted to envious discussion of these magical artifacts by Hadrumal's mages. They seek insights from their friends in Suthyfer (Usara, Shiv, and company from previous series by McKenna), they beseech the Soluran mages for information, etc. It seems the mages of Hadrumal feel that creating such artifacts is somewhat beneath them, but yet they're also curious about how it is done. There's a little bit of a contradiction here, as Anskal transports to the Halferan manor and wants some pendants that Planir has given Zurenne and Ilysh which allow communication with Planir from afar, even though Zurenne and Ilysh have no magical abilities. So it seems Planir does know how to create magical artifacts, after all?
Anyway, I am hard-pressed to say whether or not there will be another volume in this series. McKenna's first series had five volumes, her next four, her third three, and there are two so far in this one. If there is another volume, I suppose it would tie up loose ends with respect to Corrain (how long does he remain Baron Halferan), maybe there would be more dissent in Hadrumal, and maybe secrets about these artifacts would be discovered. There's also the issue of the reaction of the Aldabreshin warlords. (Kheda from the Aldabreshin Compass series keeps getting mentioned, the mages want information from him, but he never turns up.) Though most of those things would be details; there has to be some big plot point. I guess someone could challenge Planir in some way; this is called the Hadrumal Crisis, after all. (I don't think I made this clear earlier, but Hadrumal is the island where most of the mages we have met so far make their homes, or at least where they have loose ties and/or associations.)
Side note: not sure why none of Anskal's coterie of mageborn never get names. Hosh is with them long enough, he ought to learn at least one or two of their names. There is one of them who lets herself get raped so that her fellow female mageborn can gang up on the would-be attackers and dispose of them. She is continually referred to as "the woman who subjected herself to rape" and such. It's awkward. If she had a name, the text could be tidied up considerably.
I guess most of the plot revolved around Anskal, and different people's attempts to deal with him. I was a little tired of Hosh digging up old pots of preserved food, but mostly, Hosh's POV parts were the most interesting. (Corrain goes on a fruitless side-quest to Solura that takes up space but doesn't result in anything except for the return of Kusint, who parted ways with him in the previous book.) And tension was built pretty well in Anskal's scenes (well, Hosh's scenes, I guess). Stuff actually happened with him. The mages spent a lot of time spying on him, and learning a few new things about magic, but those weren't the most interesting parts of the story for me.
A subplot is that Jilseth felt like she was burned out at the end of the previous book; she'd overextended herself trying to save the Halferan citizenry. Some of her earliest attempts at magic fail. Then she gets the magic back but goes out of control. But from there on out, she just has to remind herself to stay in control, and she does. I sort of wish she'd gone out of control and there had been some consequences; it would've made her scenes a little more interesting.
I wasn't totally happy with the ending. Corrain thinks he's drowning or something, and Jilseth is overwhelmed by powerful magic, and the next thing we know, everyone is waking up back home. (Rather like how in To Green Angel Tower and its predecessors, Simon -- or whatever his name was, it's been awhile since I read that -- keeps getting knocked out and having events explained to him after he wakes up.)
Side note on the cover art: I think from the lit-up hands, that this is supposed to be Jilseth, who seems to have such things happening to her. But she's almost always described as having on plain gray gowns, not black leather bodices embedded with metal studs. But, cover art is cover art, and this isn't the worst I've ever seen.
I feel like I've had a lot of negative things to say, for a book I actually enjoyed. The second half was better than the first; the action definitely picked up. I wish I'd known a little more about Anskal's motivations; he was a little one-dimensional because he just used and abused people to suit his own purposes. Maybe if there is a third book, and we find out why the magical artifacts are so important, that will go a long way towards explaining why Anskal acted the way he did.
I think if you are enmeshed in this world McKenna has created, like I am (I've read all her novels!), this is a definite must-read. Neither Darkening Skies nor Dangerous Waters is an appropriate entry point to this world, though. You really need to go back all the way to the Einarinn books, because the stories are all peripherally connected, and rather than just being names on a page, the references to previous books do enhance the story. You get a lot more out of it if you've got the background, in other words. (Otherwise you're like, who the hell is Velindre and why should I care?) I know there may be some people who groan at the idea of getting immersed in a 14-novel series, but at least McKenna puts them out fairly quickly. (The Aldabreshin Compass novels were a little hard to get a hold of, a few years ago -- Amazon backorders and and multi-month waits and all. Don't know what the case is now.)