It's always a happy day when book-sized packages arrive on my doorstep. Granted, this does not happen with great regularity around here, but when it does, you can count on my being buried in whatever I've bought until I've turned the last page.
Part of this latest shipment of books to my home included Jill Williamson's second installment to her Blood of Kings Series: To Darkness Fled. If you heft the book and its nearly 700 pages, don't let its length daunt you. It moves at a brisk pace...brisk enough that even this homeschooling mom who's trying to write her own serial as well as edit a novel (or two) managed to down the book over the course of a long weekend.
To Darkness Fled continues the story of Vrell Sparrow, Achan Cham and their companions as they flee the usurper Esek. Both Vrell and Achan have their turns telling the tale from their point of view, which I think the author handles well. It took me a while to shake the cobwebs out of my cluttered brain and recall some of the events and tertiary characters from the first installment of the series, By Darkness Hid, but the author reintroduces those characters clearly enough to jog even my questionable memory.
The story gives the reader a pretty comprehensive tour of several of the kingdoms of Er'Rets, helping us to see the differences in customs, affiliations and nobility (or lack thereof) of each. You can see the depth of world building Williamson has done in order to craft the political climate of the continent. The cultures are varied, each with their own flavor, which I enjoyed.
Love, marriage, and the pitfalls of relationships interweave throughout this installment of the series, and I will be interested to hear what male readers of the book have to say about these aspects of the plot. While I understand the need for Achan to systematically discover none of the other romantic options available to him hold the appeal of his eventual choice of love interest, I am curious as to whether the pervasive romance of the story will "work" for the male reader or not.
The character development of Achan is thorough and satisfying. His growth into a new follower of the creator God of Williamson's world is believable and not overly swift, which I appreciate.
Vrell's character development was very interesting over the course of the two novels. I admit, I found her whiny and unlikable at the beginning of the first book, but she grew into an appealing character through the end of the first book and through most of the second. I'm sad to report, however, that the turn she takes in the end of To Darkness Fled throws her back to that place where I wanted to shake her by the shoulders and tell her to get a grip. Now, let me qualify this by saying I don't think this is a bad thing in terms of the storyline. I think the third book that is on its way (From Darkness Won), would suffer if both Vrell and Achan had ended this story well on their way to being put together and heroic. I will be interested to see where these characters' personal journeys take them in the future.
To Darkness Fled is rife with subplots, ranging from Vrell's continued struggle to conceal her identity, to questions about her true parentage, to Achan's ability to make wise choices befitting a king. It's not your typical sword and sorcery quest model...while there is the broad plot motivator of taken Achan around Er'Rets to muster an army to fight for his throne, and the short quest to liberate the Old Kingsgard knights from imprisonment, it's character development that drives the story, not the quest. But fear not, fans of swordplay, there is still plenty of action. Peril comes to the good guys in bursts that are appropriately exhausting before the story gives both characters and readers a respite.
The story is an excellent continuation of the series, answering some questions but still leaving an assortment to be solved. I enjoyed my read of this book two, and I'm looking forward to the further exploits of these characters in the next installment.