The recent radio/blog silence has been due, technically, to regurgitated reading. I’ve talked before about the Noble Dead books, even the current topic below (and linked where appropriate to reviews in the series list below). They’re a co-authored series of epic fantasy novels by wife/husband team Barb and J.C. Hendee. Once upon a time, I breezed through the first series (the first series is 6 books, the 2nd series is 3 books and so far series 3 has 3 books as well – a true time investment) with the kind of fascination, in-depth involvement and plain fun a reader wants. I loved the world, I really loved the characters and the plot had just the right amount of mystery I needed to remain hooked (while still getting enough fed to me to keep me hooked as well). Those first six books were quite the thrilling adventure.
Then came the second series, which made a major focus switch to one of the main characters we meet in the first series, a young sage named Wynn. Instead of the fascinating dhampir Majiere and her half-elf lover, Leesil, we’re stuck for three long books with the ever-frustrating and bumbling Wynn as our lead. Majerie and Leesil were off somewhere else doing who-knows-what cool and awesome things. Why the authors thought this was a good idea is still not clear. Because I decided to go back and try the second series again. Book gods, help me and I mean HELP. Me.
They must have listened because I did recently, FINALLY, finish the 2nd series. These were the titles In Shade and Shadow, Through Stone and Sea and Of Truth and Beasts, again, with Wynn the sage as our lead. I’m going to kind of talk about them as a whole since their main purpose was to reach the end of a certain goal Wynn sets out to achieve – that of finding another of this mysterious set of “orbs”.
Seriously, though, this didn’t need to take three long books to accomplish. This is because there are certain characters and events that are repetitive in the extreme, probably more so than in any other book I’ve ever read with this affliction. A revolving door plot that goes round and round the same issues, but never gets anywhere or solves anything until the end, is one of my biggest peeves as a reader. I felt like the Noble Dead series two was a big time-waster for me, but I wanted to get through them to get to series three, and hopefully some more coherently plotted reading.
A little background on the Noble Dead saga as a whole: There was an ancient war (like, long ago, in a galaxy far far away, or three thousand years ago on the side of a mountain with elves and men and orks fighting – you get the idea. It’s not terribly original, but how the authors built their version was fresh and exciting for me as a reader) that is so ancient, it’s all but been forgotten by the general population as well as their history. It’s all but a myth now. There are some who do know a little of it, though, and there is a fear that the ancient enemy, known only to them as Beloved, who tried to win that ancient war, may be coming back. The saga begins with the tale of Magiere, a dhampir, Leesil, a half human/half elf, and Chap, a Fey-born creature in wolf form. Magiere is especially pivotal to the series as a whole due to the nature of her birth. They run into Wynn some time into the first series and the young sage soon helps them in finding the first of a set of orbs. They don’t know anything much at all about the orbs, but it’s clear that they are important to the ancient enemy Beloved, and the orbs must be secreted away at all costs. The gist of the series is – they must prevent another war from starting.
One of the things that is way too repetitive in series 2, is the conflict between Wynn and the governing body of her Guild of Sages, who seem to both want Wynn to succeed (so that they can reap the benefits of what she finds) but also to keep her in the dark as much as possible and make her search as hard to accomplish as possible by hindering her at every turn. Yet they fund her trips to find this mysterious orb. And they blame her for every single problem and issue that arises from the whole mess of discovering more about the ancient war and Beloved. They all clearly know more than they’re telling, but Wynn, who knows only what she’s been able to find in “ancient texts” she’s discovered on her travels, is our lead and the result of it all is that we are in the dark, stumbling along with her. This wouldn’t be a problem if so much of series 2 were less about the problems she has in finding out more (the efforts by the sages’ guild to thwart her), and more about the plot the books supposedly seem to promise – that of uncovering this ancient war, the enemies that were faced then and what it all means presently. I don’t mind stumbling along with her, but it got old repeatedly reading how she’s thwarted yet again by the same issues. She’s actually a very intelligent young woman, but, frustratingly, she’s developed more as a scatter-brained, thoughtless person who won’t listen to anyone. Which seems to be the easy route for female character development.
Another point repeatedly slowing down the plot was Beloved’s wraith servant, Sau’ilahk. Now, this thing, this wraith, could be such an interesting character. We do learn some of its background, what it was like before becoming a wraith (trying NOT to be too spoilery here), but it spends most of its time pursuing Wynn and her efforts for dual purposes – those of its master and its own personal reasons. Any encounters anyone has with this thing either result in almost immediate death or yet another futile attempt to rid the world of it for good. It’s got more lives than an entire planet stocked to the brim with nine-life cats. And we have to watch Wynn repeatedly amazed and shocked that it’s still around. It’s also one of the whiniest characters I’ve ever read, constantly bemoaning the lack of progress it makes in completing its selfish desires.
These were the two biggest issues I had with the second series, but a slightly more minor one was that of Chane, Wynn’s vampire companion and protector. In the first series, he’s rather interesting (but I think the first series was SO much more interesting due to the inclusion of Magiere and Leesil and Chap) because of so many reasons, but in the second series, he’s relegated to, mainly, Wynn’s potential love interest. And it’s rather painful and awkwardly done at that. Chane spends most of his time worrying how he’ll live up to Wynn’s expectations of how a vampire should feed and, essentially, live (I had a big issue with her being all holier-than-thou, expecting him to be one way while also getting the benefits of his protection. GIRL, he’s a VAMPIRE. Vamps in this world drink human blood from people and stuff and yeah – hypocrisy abounds with Wynn), and turning into this mindless crazed dude at the mere threat to her. And that’s pretty much it. I hope something changes for the better character-development-wise between them in the next series. And I hope she stops trying to turn him into something he’s not.
So even I have to ask myself: Self, why do you even still want to read these books? Mostly because I did invest a lot of time in them already and, in that time, I became pretty invested in most of the characters as well as the overall series arc, what will happen with Beloved and the apparent imminent rejuvenation of “his” (I get the feeling of a male entity, not sure why though, definitely not a non-gendered one) War with Everything That is Not Evil. I absolutely love the world that the authors have housed it all in, and their development of different human cultures, elven, dwarven and more are exceptional for me as a fantasy reader. Even though I didn’t enjoy the second Noble Dead series nearly as much as the first, I did go ahead and buy the first book of series three because, hello, they obviously got me somewhere along the way. We do learn some interesting details in the second series, but they’re hard won reading-wise and it’s not as easy to stay invested, waiting for them while we bumble through yet another scene where the same things happen that happened a few chapters ago. Here’s to hoping the third series will be better – and it already is thanks to the reintroduction of previous interesting characters. Now I’m going to raise a glass to celebrate getting through series 2. Cheers.
Series 2 Whole Rating: Two and a Half Scoops
Series 1 order:
- In Shade and Shadow
- Through Stone and Sea
- Of Truth and Beasts
- Between Their Worlds
- The Dog in the Dark
- A Wind in the Night