Prospero Regained is the third and the last book in L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero's Daughter trilogy, and I am going to use this space to talk about the series as a whole, as well as the final volume in the trilogy in particular.
Prospero Regained is the conclusion to the story of Miranda, daughter of Prospero. Yes, the Miranda and Prosspero from Shakespeare's play, the Tempest. In this world, thanks to the sorcerous nature of the Prospero family, and not least because of Miranda's consecration to Eurynome, the Unicorn, the fractious and fractured Prospero family has survived several hundred years. At the beginning of the first book, Prospero Lost, Miranda discovers her father is missing, and sets off on a voyage of discovery, reunion with her siblings, and her first encounters with the evil that seeks to destroy the Prospero family. Miranda and her siblings, meet, quarrel and eventually learn that the patriarch of their clan is in a very real and Christian Hell, and in book two, Prospero in Hell, set about finding a way into that domain to locate and free their father.
Prospero Regained starts with the Prospero Family in dire straits, as a reversal at the end of Prospero in Hell has scattered the family throughout Hell. With time running out before the planned death of their father, Miranda must reunite her scattered siblings, and even more importantly, forge them together into a unit capable of finding their father, finding the true enemy that holds him, and undoing the enemy's plan. Oh, and find out the truth about herself and some more family secrets that have laid secret for centuries...
The Prospero Daughter's universe has a Grand Unified Theory of a fantasy cosmology that is unabashedly and unmistakably Christian in a way that reminds me very strongly of the role playing games In Nomine and Nobilis. The dichotomy and poles of Heaven and Hell are the very real and opposing poles of this universe and while there are a lot of things in the brave new world besides Angels and Demons, all of them, ranging from air spirits to elves to Santa Claus, all fit within this paradigm. Old Gods, Elves, and even Eurynome the Unicorn, Miranda's patron, are revealed to neatly be slotted in the eternal conflict between Heaven and Hell.
I do get the feeling, and it might not be entirely fair, that Lamplighter took the opportunity in the series to take a kitchen sink approach and decided to put everything legendary and mythological she loves into her cosmology and then some. And so, yes, in the tradition of Narnia, in Prospero Lost, Miranda meets Santa Claus. In addition to the beings mentioned above, there are legendary swords, weapons and artifacts from across cultures and time periods that show up to one degree or another throughout the series. Durandel, for example is the sword of Roland from the Matter of France. Indeed, the entire series is replete with references, allusions and direct borrowings from the Western and not so Western canon. In that way, the Prospero Daughter's series reminds me strongly of John Myers Myers' Silverlock.
Alert readers of my reviews might wonder how the Prospero Daughter's series compares to another fantasy I read and reviewed this year that has an explicitly Christian cosmology: Teresa Frohock's Miserere, an Autumn Tale. While both books have a literal heaven, hell and world between, the two books could not be any more different.
The tone of the Prospero Daughter's books, from start to finish, for one thing, is bright-color and light hearted Christian adventure fantasy. This is not to say that setbacks and bad things do not happen to Miranda and her siblings. In point of fact, some of the things that do happen are pretty dark, without question. But unlike Miserere, which I would classify as a dark fantasy done in a relatively grim palette, the Prospero Daughter books are far more cheerful. Sometimes, I think that, given some of the situations that innate and fundamental cheerfulness actually works against the power and the potency of the text.
Even while in the landscapes of Hell, which is the primary setting for most of Prospero Regained, I didn't feel the darkness and doom that Frohock expresses so very well in Miserere. Instead, Prospero Regained feels much more like the Niven and Pournelle classic Inferno, in which a science fiction writer makes his way through Hell.
And as I mentioned before, in a scene that clearly is an echo of Narnia, in Prospero Lost, Miranda has a meeting with Santa Claus. It is the scenes like that, among others throughout the series, where Lamplighter's prose is far more effective than when she is describing darker lands and events.
The Prospero family, from Miranda on down are all unique people with opposing points of view, outlooks on the universe, and oh, yes, secrets. Like G'Kar's explanation of the diplomats on Babylon 5, none of the members of the Prospero family are exactly who and what they appear to be. This turns out to include Miranda as well. In this way, there is a far larger cast than Frohock's Miserere although this might be at the expense of the tight relationship dynamics found in the latter's book. Some of the relationships in the Prospero Daughter's series are not as well delineated as others, and sometimes, I feel that Lamplighter overplays her hand with some relationships, especially the antipathy between Miranda and her brother Erasmus, even if turns out there is good reason for it to exist.
Like Miserere, the Prospero Daughter trilogy is explicitly Christian, but it is not seeking to convert its readers. However, that said, the characters in both universes live and act in a universe where religion, belief, devotion and faith matter and matter strongly and infuse and inform the text. Even if there are many interesting things in the kitchen sink cosmology that Lamplighter gleefully stirs in her books, atheist and especially militant atheistic readers are going to have a hard time, I think.
Lamplighter's inspirations, though, are of a different vein than Frohock's. In addition to C.S. Lewis as an obvious inspiration, Roger Zelazny is another clear inspiration for Lamplighter's universe. Let's see: a squabbling long lived family with magical powers and artifacts, tangling with beings from mythology and fantasy as well as each other. And a Unicorn! Yes, the Chronicles of Amber, Lord of Light and other Zelazny works find echoes here.
Looking back at the three books, however, and the character of Miranda and her growth, I think the central question of the book boils down to a very Christian one--Free Will.
The responsibility, use and the consequences of Free Will turn up again and again, in the actions and previous decisions of the characters, and how they grow and change through the three volumes. While I do think that Miranda's growth could have been a little better partitioned out through the three books (now that I see where Lamplighter was all along going with it), it is an important theme worthy of the series' exploration. The question of the Free Will of Man in the conflict between Good and Evil is mirrored and examined through the lens of the Prospero Family, and Miranda as our protagonist in particular. In addition to that, the question of Free Will is explored and extended to the Aerie Ones, and even to the denizens of Hell.
Did I like it and would I recommend the series to you, the reader? That is actually not a trivial question. As I mentioned before, there is definitely a stratum of readers who I would in no uncertain terms believe unsuited to appreciating the work. Prospero Regained finishes out the tradition and meticulously explains all of the mysteries hanging through the entire series, perhaps to a fault. And the tone of the book, the lighthearted Christian adventure fantasy aspect of it, takes some getting used to. Sometimes, that tone doesn't work, as I have outlined before. Overall, though, I enjoyed the series primarily on the secret Arcane history aspect of the books, from start to finish. Despite and regardless of its thought provoking questions of Free Will, it really is a lighthearted adventure fantasy that never forgets how to have fun.
(A longer version of this review originally appeared at the Functional Nerds)