It doesn’t auger well for a book when the author herself says in the forward that if you haven’t read the previous four volumes in the series or some of the others set in the same world, that you might as well put it back on the shelves. I always thought that the idea behind marketing a book was to get as many people to buy it as possible, and then more by that author because they liked it.
This kind of book – high fantasy – seems to need an obligatory map and list of characters. It would help if the map in this book actually had the places marked on it that were in the text. One vital strand of the novel takes the character, Dorrin, on a sea voyage yet there is no coastline. Neither is the character list particularly helpful.
In a series like this it is inevitable that readers joining for the last episode will be expected to experience some degree of disorientation but a skilful writer will work hard to prevent too much floundering. In the real world, there is a tendency towards convoluted politics and shifting alliances. In fantasy there is no reason why this should not apply so the idea that there are different factions is to be expected. The problem is that they don’t fully link up. There are a number of strands that could be considered the main thrust of this volume but none are fully exploited, others getting in the way of clarity.
Naturally, when a book is billed as the climax of a series it would be reasonable for the volume to start with the most important characters. Not in this case. Action begins in a military outpost with a set of characters that don’t play much part in the main plot of this story. That doesn’t really take off until nearly two hundred pages in when iynisin, a kind of evil dark elf, attacks the palace of the king of Tsaia and seriously wounds his brother and heir. Their aim had been to steal regalia, including the crown of the title, for nefarious purposes. Dorrin is a paladin who has semi-retired to care for her own estates but she is the only person that can safely move the regalia and take the pieces somewhere where they won’t be found. She must travel on her own but instantly become a target for Alured who is now the Duke of Immer. He believes that once the regalia are in his hands, he will have a source of power that will enable him to conquer the known world. Part of his ambition is fuelled by the demon that rides in his mind.
This plot-line would, in other hands be sufficient to fill a whole book. Elizabeth Moon, though, has envisaged a far more complicated scenario and feels the need to include all the other aspects of the world she has created. For a long time, the use of magic has been outlawed because it has been used for evil in the past. There has been a recent upsurge of people showing signs of being able to harness magic. A section of the population, the followers of Gird (who’s story is told in an earlier book), consider these people as anathema and need to be killed, even of they are children. The resolution of this problem takes place away from the main action and characters from each section have very little interaction.
There are good, well drawn characters and solid plotting but this book is too much of a, ‘I have to draw all the threads together so mustn’t leave anybody out’ kind of compilation. Although, many readers of the previous volumes will enjoy finding out about the fate of their favourite characters, moon doesn’t have the sure touch of someone like George R. R. Martin who can hold all the strands and not let the reader become confused. Moon would have done better concentrating on one aspect of the situation at a time and perhaps made this into two separate volumes.