dimanche 11 mai 2014

The Shattered Crown by Richard Ford

Saviour's Bridge spanned the River Storway where it ran between Steelhaven and the Old City. It was no doubt named to venerate the Teutonian saviour Arlor - that deified hero of old, raised to godhood by the teeming ignorant masses.

The city of Steelhaven is soon to be under siege. With the King dead, his daughter Janessa must wear the crown, untested and untried in times of peace, she has no idea how to handle things in times of war. As part of her guard, Kaira and Merrick - one a fallen priestess and the other a drunk and a coward - must try and protect her from enemies within and without. And down in the city, the girl Rag sees just how far she is willing to go to gain her place as part of the Guild.

I quite enjoyed last year's Herald of the Storm when I read it at the beginning of the year - a clever, well-written fantasy that, though it did not break any barriers or reinvent any major elements of the classic fantasy stories we know and love, did a great job of creating an interesting world peopled by intriguing, likeable characters. From the young princess struggling to find her place in her father's court to the assassin who falls in love with his mark, Richard Ford managed to weave a number of strands into an irregular whole that ended up being more than the sum of its parts. I put The Shattered Crown on my To Read List for the year and picked it up soon after it came out.

The sequel picks up where Herald of the Storm ended - the war is going badly for Steelhaven, not least because the King has been killed at the front, leaving the invading army behind Amon Tugha to descend on the city. Princess Janessa is now Queen Janessa, charged with protecting her city. She gathers advisors and protectors around her, who include the former priestess Kaira and the former drunk Merrick. As they struggle to stand in the way of the numerous threats against Janessa's life, they are also forced to face all that they lost in the previous book, and for Merrick that implies facing the one ghost from the past he had hoped never to see again - his father. Kaira becomes involved with an investigation into the Guild, one that brings her into contact with Rag, the young thief from Herald who is now confronting just how far she may have to go to keep her place amongst the criminal brotherhood. And Wylian, still apprenticed to the sorceress Gelredida, becomes involved in intrigue within the highest court of the Tower of Magisters.

As you can see from the paragraph above, there is a LOT going on in The Shattered Crown, in the same way as there was in Herald of the Storm. Ford has a lot of balls in play here, and while they do cross over a lot more than they did in the last one, they also continue along their own paths. While that means that you never get bored - any time one storyline begins to drag you are quickly moved on to another - it also means that the book as a whole feels just as disjointed as Herald of the Storm, with the central plot of the Kurtha invasion never really gelling until right at the end. Considering how much set up there was in Herald, I was expecting Shattered Crown to move the plot forward more than it did - this still feels like a transitional book.

That is not to say that The Shattered Crown does not have any resolution. While it does end on a huge cliffhanger, each character has his or her own plotline that is clearly defined from the beginning and has a clear ending. The characters all grow and change during the course of the book and Ford does a wonderful job of surprising through clever twists and revelations. Along with the existing characters exposed above, Ford also introduces a new one: Regulus, leader of a warrior band travelling to Steelhaven to take up service with Janessa's father. If there is a central storyline the others move around, it would probably be this one, although certain characters have very little to do with it. Regulus himself is a great addition - brave, honourable and a major bad-ass when it comes time to fight.

Of the other characters, I preferred the chapters surrounding Janessa, Merrick and Rag, mainly because they seemed to have the most to gain and/or lose. Each of the characters is playing for big stakes, but these three were the ones who changed the most by the time the book ends.

The ending itself is a huge bang, bringing the series to a point we have been expecting since the herald first arrived in Steelhaven at the beginning of book one. Any disappointment felt at the lack of a cohesive plot evaporated when the hordes show up outside the gates, leaving me looking forward to the third book.

A fine continuation of Herald of the Storm, The Shattered Crown improves on some of the things that were lacking in the first book but remains a transitional novel. The world is expanded, the characters change but by the end it is difficult to say that the actual plot has advanced tremendously. Still, the characters carry the book forward and each of them is compelling enough to keep anyone reading. I for one will be looking forward to the conclusion of the trilogy. I gave The Shattered Crown 3 black iron helms and carven hammers out of 5.

Buy It For Kindle
Author's Website

From the Blogosphere:
Grimdark Reader
A Fantastical Librarian
Robin's Books

From the Author's Mouth:
Interview from last year with SFX

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