Elspeth Cooper's debut novel Songs of the Earth, grabbed the top spot on my Books of 2011 list. The book had many very familiar tropes and hearkened back to the old-school fantasies of my youth. Reading it gave me warm and fuzzy feelings and just made me plain happy, so I forgave the flaws I did notice. Its basic elements may not have been cutting edge, Cooper wielded them with skill and managed to give them enough of a twist so that I really enjoyed the book. Needless to say, I've been excited for Trinity Rising since reading Songs of the Earth in December and last week my patience was rewarded and I got to return to Gair's world. To do so was a pleasure and it was over all too soon.
Trinity Rising starts by taking us a step back in time, focusing on Savin, Songs of the Earth's villain, and Teia, a Nimrothi clanswoman in separate storylines. Savin's storyline serves both as a further reveal of his motivations and as a temporal anchor for Teia's story; as we recognise events from the previous book in Savin's scenes, we know how far Teia's story has caught up to Gair's. Teia's story is arguably the main storyline in Trinity Rising; in fact, Gair doesn't even make an appearance in book until the middle third of the book. While I really enjoyed Teia's story and her character, the start of her narrative made me wince as it involves her being steered into an abusive relationship. Luckily, Cooper doesn't utilise this relationship to give Teia agency, instead this is done through Teia's visions of an appalling future for her people. Instead, the relationship functions as both a way to have her in close contact to her clan's Speaker, the one that she's foreseen causing her people's destruction and as a way to stress Teia's sense of honour and duty. It is only Teia's sense of honour and duty to her family that keeps her with Drwyn, the same sense of honour and duty that ultimately drives her to leave the clan to warn the Empire of the dangers loosened by the Speaker, Ytha. I loved Teia's development. She's always got spark, but during the novel she first stands up to the abusive Drwyn, commanding his respect, and later she stands up to the conniving Ytha, first in private, but finally in front of the whole clan. She grows up and becomes a remarkable woman, who's brave and strong and has the courage to do what is right, even if she's scared to death and feels out of her depth.
Teia isn't the only strong woman in Trinity Rising. Tanith makes a return and Ytha - no matter what you may think of her - is a strong woman as well. All three though are strong in different ways. Tanith defies propriety and the White Court to do what she thinks is right and to be allowed to make her own choices. I loved the way that she struggles with the remnants of her attraction to Ailric. Even if he still has a big physical draw on her, she knows she doesn't love him and I love that she doesn't give in to what is convenient and safe, but chooses to follow her heart and her conscience. Ytha is unpleasant, uncompromisingly ambitious, and conniving and doesn't scruple to abuse her position to manipulate people to do what she wants. But however unpalatable you find Ytha, there is no denying she's a character to be reckoned with, a kingmaker and a powerful woman in her own right.
While the book is filled with strong female characters, the men were a little disappointing. Ailric, Savin are both unpleasant and while Savin's arc had a function, Ailric just seemed to be there as a foil for Tanith and to be an obstacle for her. His failure to take her no for an answer irritated me and when he showed up again in the final chapters in the book, I wanted to slam him in the head and just dump him in the woods, so that Tanith could go do what she needed to do. Maybe he'll have more of a role in the next book, but in this book he felt a little superfluous to Tanith's story. And my lovely Gair, who I loved so much in Songs of the Earth? Gair is broken-hearted and while I understand grief affects people differently, his almost sulking obsession with getting revenge on Savin was aggravating. As long as Gair just got on with it, he was okay, but every time he started dwelling on Aysha I just wanted to shake him and tell him Aysha wouldn't want him to act like this. This was probably what Cooper was going for however, so hats off to her.
Through the different narratives, mainly those of Teia, Gair and Tanith, though we also get points of views from Savin, Duncan, Ansel and some other smaller characters, we see more of the world, especially of the Northern reaches and the southern desert and their peoples, but also glimpses of Astolar and the wildwood of Bregorin. I really loved the time spent in the desert lands and with Tanith in the mystical realms of Astolar and Bregorin, though I've the feeling that when we learn more about both of the latter societies, they wouldn't be very mystical, judging from Tanith's brief appearance at a Court council meeting. Those stodgy politicians didn't differ that much from the tradition-bound Fathers of the Eadoran Church! Speaking of said Church, the storyline set in the Church was one of my favourite things about the last book and in this book Cooper develops it in a direction I haven't seen in fantasy before. I'm looking forward to see how it takes shape in later the books and what the consequences will be.
Cooper creates some awesome moments in Trinity Rising. There is one great, big jaw-dropping moment, which I can't discuss further, since it is too good to spoil for anyone, but wow, it surprised me so much that I had to take to Twitter and share my amazement. Where in the Songs of the Earth I complained about certain things being telegraphed too much, here Cooper succeeded in surprising me, but when I went back, the clues were all there in the text. In addition to these great plot twists and scenes, she writes in a lovely style with, at times, an almost poetic choice of words. Once again Cooper has succeeded in writing a book that had me connect with its characters so strongly that I would actually get mad at them and talk to my book or be so worried for them I was afraid to go on, lest they really would be grievously harmed.
Did Trinity Rising do the same thing Songs of the Earth did for me? No, not totally. Where Songs of the Earth was an unalloyed pleasure for me because of the warm fuzzy feelings it gave me, Trinity Rising had some elements that irked me, such as Gair's broody, angry behaviour, Ailric, and the opening gambit of Teia's story. But it is definitely a strong second novel - stronger than its predecessor in the writing and plot - and when I finished it earlier today, I was already wishing that I could read the next one. Because, be warned, Trinity Rising ends on something of a cliff hanger; this book won't stand alone. Still, I'll be waiting with as much anticipation for the next book in the series as I did for this one. This, and the fact that Cooper has got me invested in her work to such an extent should, be enough of a recommendation to give The Wild Hunt series a chance. Trinity Rising was published by Gollancz on July 31st and should be available from all the usual venues.
This copy was provided for review by the author.