Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
This is the second novel in what seems to be a well-received series. The first novel `The King’s Mistress’ is about the fierce ambition of a young woman, but now she is a bit older and even more ambitious. The difficulty with reviewing a second volume when you have yet to read the first is obvious but Tyrrell manages to put the reader at their ease with full back stories expressed by the characters themselves. This is a well written work; the style is in part reminiscent of Jerry Pournelle, with plenty of tension and brutality described in an uncompromising fashion.
There will always remain within the fantasy genre space for this type of pseudo-medieval tale set within a sub-Tolkien framework of romance, ambition, magic and conflict. This niche is no longer oversubscribed and overworked as it is difficult to bring to life a successfully entertaining narrative, but Ray Tyrrell has written a hefty tale of bloated ambition and corruption set among warring tribes and kingdoms. It reminds me somewhat of George Shipway’s historical novels that described the anarchy of Stephen & Matilda, inspiring many in those lost early days of swords and sorcery.
This story begins where volume one ended, after the climactic battle. The characters are all suffering from the experience. A distinct sense of post traumatic shock pervades, caused by witnessing the sudden savage death of loved ones at close quarters. This is well expressed as are the emotions of defeat, retreat and enforced escape. The politics of the victors is well imagined although the intensity of relationships seem deliberately overstated.
Eilana, the mother of Gudfel now crowned as King of Nisceriel following the defeat of her enemies in volume one, sets about stabilising her authority as Regent and King Mother and marshalling her resources for the next phase of her dynastic ambition; namely the conquest of an entire continent. Of course there remains a lot of grit in the wheel from previous events, not least her eldest son Harlada whom she has alienated by the murder of his friend Gudrick. Harlada possesses a magical talisman, the coin of Crakulta that provides him with guidance and, to a point reassurance.
Harlada also has the support of the Elves, the Marsh People, and neighbouring kingdoms. Then there are the wolves, assassins and the two conflicted religions of Wey and Saar busily manoeuvring between the gaps. Add in what the late Harold Macmillan called `events, dear boy, events’ and there is a very exciting and pretty pot of tension boiling on the cooker. This is all faithfully recorded on every page in fine detail.
Throughout the tale there is a very agreeable devotion to the landscape and climate: the thick woods, the high hills, the rolling moor and the flooded river. These all provide context to the narrative and a richness to the novel. It is this degree of description that provides structure to the entire story making the places real, giving the characters depth and their causes for action very apparent. The plot moves fast.
This all makes for an enjoyable read. There is more than one moral to the tale although ruthless ambition figures high on the scale, leaving everyone pretty uncomfortable. There is a prophecy left dangling at the end, perhaps the hook around which a third volume could be assembled?