Category Archives: Chaos

Return to the Shifted World

Kindred and Wings
Philippa Ballantine
Pyr Books
Paperback 340 pp., $18.00
ebook $11.99  Kindle  B&N

If you read Philippa Ballantine’s Hunter and Fox last year (reviewed here), then you will be glad to know that the sequel hits the shelves on August 6, which is tomorrow as I’m writing this.  The good folks at Pyr books were kind enough to send me a review copy, for which I would like to thank them.

I enjoyed the novel, but I liked the sequel even more.  Kindred and Wings takes up where Hunter and Fox left off. Talyn is still seeking the Caisah’s death, but she’s going to discover there are other things that should be a higher priority.  Finn the Fox, aided by the dragon Wahirangi, continues his quest to find his brother.  Meanwhile, Talyn’s brother Byre will discover that dealing with the Kindred is not without cost. And hanging over everything is the growing menace of White Void.

There are a number of viewpoint characters in Kindred and Wings.  Ballantine alternates between them, juggling story lines in a way that makes the action flow.  I’ve not read her more recent novels in her other series (not because I’m not interested but because I have to sleep sometime), so I can’t make a complete comparison, but I think this is some of her best writing.  Each of the viewpoint characters, and there more than just the three I mentioned above, are well defined.  We see each of them at their worst and their best.  Their motives and agendas sometimes come into conflict, and it’s here that some of the strongest character development occurs.  While I didn’t like all the viewpoint characters, I understood them, and it’s because they were so well written that I didn’t like one or two of them.  None of them were stock characters.

There are some great action scenes, including several battles, and all are handled well.  But ultimately this book boils down to personal conflict, and it’s at this level that the author’s abilities really shine.  The scene in the castle where Finn first encounters the shade of his mother, or when Kelanim is in the chapel of wings, not a word is wasted.  The sense of being there, of visualizing what was happening, was particularly strong. 

Overall, Kindred and Wings had a more epic feel to it than I remember Hunter and Fox having.   That’s probably the result of how Ballantine handles the viewpoint characters.  The respective characters don’t alternate chapters or sections of chapters in a predictable manner.  Rather we see what we need to see when it’s time to see it.  That means that sometimes a character will be off stage longer in some parts of the book than in others.  We find out the Caisah’s secrets, and I really liked what those turned out to be.  Not everything you thought you knew in the first book was true.

If I had to find a flaw in the book, I felt that everyone coming together for the final confrontation was a little rushed.  I was expecting a cliffhanger ending with the final resolution in a following book.  The ending was satisfying, and I don’t mean to imply that it wasn’t.  I just wasn’t expecting it to happen in this book.

Kindred and Wings was a very satisfying read. It hits shelves tomorrow, so if this is your cup of tea, look for it.

Hunter and Fox is Full of Surprises

Hunter and Fox
Philipa Ballantine
Pyr Books
trade paper $17.32
ebook $10.31 Kindle  Nook

I enjoyed Philipa Ballantine’s Geist very much (reviewed here) and have the sequel Spectyr in the TBR pile, so when an opportunity to get a review copy of her latest book arose, I took advantage of it.  I’m glad I did.

This is different than any of Ms. Ballantine’s work I’ve seen to this point.  I think it’s safe to say Hunter and Fox is different than most fantasy that’s currently out there.  This is a good thing, although trying to pull off a book like this is a challenge for most writers.  By and large, Ms. Ballantine is up for the challenge.

This is a hard book to describe because there are multiple story arcs that intertwine.  I’m only going to give you an idea of the initial set up to avoid spoilers because there are plenty of surprises.  The story takes place in a world where Chaos reigns, with mountains becoming plains or shallow seas, forests turning into deserts, a constantly changing topography, with the flora changing with it.  Or at least it did until a despot known as the Caisah conquered everything and brought stability to large portions of the world.

This world is inhabited by a number of races, all of whom came there through the White Void at different times.  The older races are the more powerful, and the oldest of all is the Vaerli.  When the Caisah came to power, he performed a magical attack against the Vaerli called the Harrowing, which took away most of their abilities.  It also caused any two Vaerli who happen to find themselves in each other’s presence to burst into flame.  This was 300 years ago.  Some of the races, including the Vaerli and the Casisah (whose race is a mystery), are effectively immortal.  They can be killed, but they don’t age.

Talyn is one of the Vaerli.  She is the Caisah’s Hunter, charged with tracking down and killing any enemies he decides need to die.  There have been quite a few such individuals through the years.  Talyn tells herself she’s doing this to help her people.

Finnbarr the Fox is a storyteller who happens to have some small magical abilities.  He loves Talyn.  At one time she loved him, but she’s discarded those memories.  Being immortal, the Vaerli have the ability to excise memories to preserve their sanity.  He’s come to find her.  He’s also fomenting rebellion against the Caisah.

Finnbarr has three companions who are more (and less) than they seem.  Talyn’s brother is out there somewhere.  He’s been given a quest that will have major repercussions.  Before the book is done the players will learn that there are greater things to fear than the Caisah.

This is an ambitious book, original and full of surprises.  My understanding of what was happening changed throughout.  Ballantine doesn’t foreshadow much.  She simply drops information and revelations as she goes along.  You need to be paying attention when you read this one because what you think is happening isn’t necessarily what’s really happening.  There are a number of plot threads hanging and questions unanswered when you close the book.  Who is the boy Finn communicates with through a cat’s cradle?  What’s the story about a group of Vaerli sacrificing their children?  I could go on, but that would be teasing.  Also, many of the questions involve spoilers.

Don’t look for a happy ending in this one.  The last line has to be one of the bleakest and most effective I’ve ever seen.  It’s not so much that the ending is tragic or a cliffhanger, although the end contains aspects of both.  This is a story that isn’t fully told, and I’m not sure wrapping things up in neat resolutions would have been the best way to tell this portion.  There will definitely be another volume, and I hope sales are good enough that Pyr publishes it soon.  I want to know how things get wrapped up.

The only complaint I have is the cover, for two reasons.  First, it implies there’s a greater romance element to the story than there actually is.  Second, Talyn is described more than once as being shorter than the average Vaerli woman, or any woman for that matter, with an olive complexion.  The woman on the cover (that’s not a horse she’s riding, BTW) looks tall and pale. 

My issues with the cover aside, this was a good book, one I recommend.  I’m looking forward to the sequel.  Hunter and Fox is a featured book at Adventures Fantastic Books.