There are some authors out there that I will read sight unseen; that is, no matter what genre they're writing, I'm going to give the book a try. One of those authors for me is Julian May -- I've been a cheerful addict of her books ever since her magnificent Pliocene Saga.
Now she has wrapped up a new three part saga set in the fantasy world of the Boreal Moon. With the third volume, Sorcerer's Moon, there has been a long period of relative peace for a fledgling empire. For sixteen years Conrig Wincantor has the Sovereign of High Blenholme, hiding his own dormant magical powers that would disqualify him for kingship, and ruling in a particularly ruthless, if efficient way. And with two sons that are eligible to follow him, it doesn't look like things are going to be changing in the near future.
And as for Deveron Austrey, the narrator of this tale, he's vanished after the events in Ironcrown Moon , and lives an uneasy exile. But the woman he abandoned, Iduna, has come to him, not out of love it seems, but to bring Deveron back into the schemes of the Source, a mysterious being who is conducting a great plan to rid Blenholme of the Beaconfolk, the shifting lights in the northern skies.
And now, it seems that a new set of players have entered the game. Conrig's heir, Orrion, has no desire to marry the girl his father has chosen for him, and climbing to the top of the mountain known as the Demon's Chair to beseech the Lights or Demonfolk to help him get out of the deal. Let me marry the girl I love! he cries out -- and looses his right arm in the process, an action that disqualifies him to be king, and makes his twin brother, Corodon, heir. Corodon, who's a bit vain, and not nearly as thinking as his brother, is pleased as could be to be his father's successor, but many fear that he's not going to be up to the task.
The Beaconfolk, able to grant supernatural powers in exchange for human suffering, use moonstones carved into sigils and shapes for their magical doings. Deveron, who has a few gifts of his own, knows all too well what sort of suffering can be exacted for the use of the moonstones, for he has two of the great powers in his own hands, and does everything that he can not to use them.
New characters and old ones are coming to play in this final volume as well. The Salka, monsterous, magic-using, amphibians have taken over the kingdom of Moss, endlessly planning how they can destroy humankind, and waging a never-ending guerilla war against King Conrig. But the exiled Conjure-King, Beynor, thought to be long dead, makes a return, and it seems that he's matured a bit in the years -- he's nearly, likeable. And a young woman, Casya the Pretender, has been putting her forth her own claim to be Queen of Didion. Finally, the first wife of King Conrig is anything but dead, and Princess Maudrayn has her own ambitions in play.
It's a complicated, detailed story, full of politics and double-dealing, as well as the more usual battles and spellcasting. One of May's strong points is that she is able to give the reader characters that are complete, that is, they each have their own motivations and sufferings and internal lives, and she's not afraid to give them a twist or two for fun. But she also knows her science and puts that to good use in creating a magical system that has its own limitations and abilities, with the result that it doesn't have the hokum that I usually find in most fantasy novels -- here there are real consequences to actions, and magic is something rare and dangerous, not just a do-everything tool.
Her work is geared more for adult readers rather than teens, but that's another selling point of her work. The plot lines are complicated, and require that the reader pay attention to who is who, and what is going on. But the payoff is worth it, as there is certain to be justice paid to those who richly deserve it, and a certain satisfaction at the end. For those of you out there who want a sophisticated fantasy series with plenty of action, true emotions, and some truly devious monsters and players, this set of books should do very nicely.
The previous two books in the series are Conqueror's Moon and Ironcrown Moon. I do recommend that the reader be familiar with these first two titles, as May does not provide much of a synopsis in this one to give a hint of what has gone on before. While this does avoid explainitis, it also can make the story a bit confusing. But that's only a momentary problem.
On the whole, this is a grand, epic adventure, where there are surprises and new twists on the entire fantasy genre from start to finish. I do hope Ms May keeps writing, as both her science fiction and fantasy novels always have new ideas and plenty of good storytelling to recommend them.