The Tagline for the sixth season of that smart cult TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was "Oh! Grow up!", and for the second volume of the Wraeththu histories, *The Shades of Time and Memory*, the tentative direction of this new series seems to follow those lines.
My first reaction to the resumption of the series with *The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure* 15 years after the original ended was mixed. Delight at seeing more of it, slight disappointment that it didn't quite capture the magic of the original *Wraeththu*. The fleshing out of old minor characters, Flick and Ulaume, or Seel (no!) though vibrant and exciting, didn't make me fall in love as madly as the first one -and I'd read the holy trilogy only 2 weeks before. I didn't have years of building up their mythos in my mind. The switch to 3rd person from the brilliant mix of humor and pathos of the trilogy's 1st person didn't move me to tears and laughter, the story, while fascinating on its own terms, didn't have that legendary poignancy. The Original Wraeththu trilogy was breaktaking, heartbreaking, gripping (all sorts of -ing), and your heart threatens to hold onto them, not wanting to let go of their painful beauty.
Now that I've read the 2nd in this new series (and re-read *Wraiths* 5 times), I see this from a bit more measured perspective. These are, after all this nitpicking, the most exhilerating fantasy books I've read in years.
*The Shades of Time and Memory* picks up right where the final trilogy ended, rather than fill in the lost years between 2 and 3 as *Wraiths of Will and Pleasure* did. What happens after Cal stalks into Immanion, reunites with Pell, and takes his rightful place in Wraeththu?
This makes for an unforgetable read; the plot never drops, and almost every chapter leaves you breathless. The mystery and intrigue keeps you on the edge of your seat, until you look up and can't recognize your surroundings because you've been so absorbed. And the pace cannot be perfected upon! You're never overwhelmed by too much, but at the same time you're left dizzy with the excitement and the emotions.
The characters are a mix of our well known (and deeply beloved), Cal, Cobweb, Caeru, Swift, and well, Pellaz too, as well as the most amazing transformation of Ponclast. Newer characters tie in with the old, as children (harlings!) have grown up and do their bit to inherit the world: Tyson, Moon, Abrimel, Azriel, Aleeme, and a disturbing Caliban figure, Diablo...
Of course, everything must be compared back to the original *Wraeththu* (the holy3), but I feel at this point, that this might be a tad unfair. The originals were about one story above all, a mad, passionate, haunting, painful, gorgeous Love beyond Death and Time etc. Like Buffy season 2, like Romeo and Juliet, it's beautiful, gothic, beautifully extravagant teenage love.
(and that's why I love it so dearly)
But the new series is about something different. Not less exciting, and with even greater cosmic implications (hints of Constantine's Grigori series here), and with another sweet love story in the midst of it all, *Shades* develops the careful setting of *Wraiths*, and turns the new series, not only into a focus for the love story of Cal and Pell (holy3), but into an exploration of the greater potential of all these characters. (I'm skipping out on spoiling the "action" plot here- it's amazing)
The novel seems to be a testing ground for who matures and who doesn't. Are Wraeththu stuck in the same cycle as their human predecessors, living out comfortable and gender split domestic arrangements, bickering over land and dynasties, or are they more? Who grows up and who doesn't? And what are the choices that determine this? What about the itchy unfairness and classism of Immanion superiority (as disturbing to me as Uigenna brutality- I rather liked the crazy Uigenna)?
You're left with all the impact of the powerful love story of the originals, but with a maturity, where our once obsessed lovers have to take on responsibilities, where work and duty and racial destiny take as much space as their youthful passions did (and still do).
Don't get me wrong- this is not a mild story about settling down- by no means! It's brutal and painful, horrific and gorgeous at turns (and sometimes at once). Point-counter point revelations are shocking/thrilling. But it points, not to "only love" at the center, but "live and love too." Like the broader wryer acceptance of life trials in Buffy season 6 (O Grow up!) or the *The Winter's Tale* and *the Tempest*, life goes on and you'll love how the Wraeththu grow up.