Moving the tale started in Nightblade to a large canvas, Robinson delivers another instalment of high fantasy filled with realistic characters.
This book collects parts 9-16 of the Nightblade serial. While this review avoids unnecessary description of the events of the previous volume, it does contain some spoilers.
After discovering that Xain and Annis have not waited at the agreed rendezvous, Loren chases after them accompanied by Gem and the Mystic, Jordel. With Jordel continuing to be polite and helpful – if a little secretive about his purposes – Loren believes she has made the right choice in helping him track Xain. However, a chance encounter with a group of mercenaries reveals that Jordel is not the paragon that she took him for. With neither man meeting her standards, can she pick the right one? Or should she abandon them both?
Building on the culture shock that Loren experienced in the first volume, Robinson uses the same method of perceptive, yet insular, narrator to provide the reader with more glimpses of the wider world. Paired with the greater presence of Jordel, this creates both an engaging background and sense that Loren’s choices might impact more than merely her dreams of being a famous thief.
This revealing of more information is incomplete, still denying the reader details of why Jordel is so determined to catch up with Xain. However, this volume does contain several complete minor arcs and sufficient threads from the first volume are resolved, that the book has the sense of an intermediate book in a series rather than an author withholding information for the sake of it.
Loren’s struggle between realism and her dream of being a legendary honourable thief continues to engage. Faced with more situations where her companions are ready to steal from those who are not evil or even kill, she retreats more firmly into her decision to take only from those who deserve it and never kill. As the casual brutality of the world, and the complexity of human choices, become evident, this causes as many problems as it solves.
Unfortunately, when it comes to choosing which of the two men to help, Loren’s character is less well-written in places than in the previous book. Where her indecision seemed a plausible result of her great naïvety in the first volume, there are a few moments in this book where her motives for changing sides lack a sense of deep ethical confusion; as such, she occasionally seems flighty, a characteristic that does not fit her overall fanatical commitment to rectitude. However, these moments are neither common nor extensive, so are more brief annoyance than barrier to enjoyment.
Expanding from a passing presence to a companion, Jordel reveals a plausible mix of large-scale ethics and small-scale pragmatism. This preparedness to do the less than perfect thing in service to commendable goals provides a solid contrast to both Loren’s moral certainty and Gem’s unashamed self-interest.
Maintaining this skilled balance between the small- and large-scale, the supporting cast display the same allegiance to one of a few concepts combined with a nuanced approach to each decision: other Mystics share Jordel’s commitment to the goal of their order, but are more brutal or more lawful in seeking it; the less-than-lawful share Gem’s self-interest, but value personal loyalty differently. This supports the sense of sweeping events without relegating secondary characters to mere vehicles for the plot.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to readers who enjoyed the first volume.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.