Saturday, 24 March 2012

Dark Haven by Gail Z. Martin

Though there are no spoilers for this book, this book contains a major (unavoidable) spoiler from books one and two. You have been warned!!! (It's also early on in the review.)

This the third in a series of fantasy, sword-and-sorcery novels following Martris "Tris" Drayke but now begins a split narrative that also follow Jonmarc Vahanian who is Mortal Lord of Dark Haven, the Land of the Vampires. Both are at war with one another and we see that though, perhaps, the major events are now ever, their effects are still being felt and the problem lingers still.

In some ways, I wasn't looking forward to this book. I like fantasy because I like magic and mythical creatures, and though Jonmarc is great character, I was initially worried that the magic (which, as I said, is the core fantasy element that I like) would take a back-seat. In some ways this is true, but it still took up half the narrative.

Jonmarc's is based on the fact that he is mortal among vampires, some of which are unwilling to have a mortal Lord. The central elements seem to be that he is rebuilding an ignored land to help its deprived inhabitants, as well as dealing with curbing an uprising and a war between the dead and the undead. Tris now the (SPOILER) King of Margolan is trying to do something similar as he stabilises a country in turmoil, secures the succession (since the Usurper was violently promiscuous) and enters into an inevitable war.

I point both of them out for a particular reason: they are both trying to help people who are starving and they both say how, though a King and a Lord, celebrations should be muted and in-extravagant. Yet it annoyed me to see them eating into heaps and heaps of food, dress up in expensively tailored clothes made for the occasions and basically spend truck loads of money. They proclaim the need to help and defend the interests of the people and say they cannot consider huge extravagance; the needs of the people are more important. It just frustrated me that this seemed persistently ignored.

That aside though, the plots were straightforward, run-of-the-mill stories, but well done such that you probably wouldn't be bored. The things I said earlier about the plot is basically just that in the long run, except with internal dialogue, romance and specifics. Yet the magic in it is that the characters involved are so interesting. Rather than being high and mighty, they are normal people who would fit in easily in a modern age because their outlook is understandable and they themselves are easy to empathise with. There is none of that sickening nonsense about "duty", "honour" and "loyalty" that is the Knight's code. They are still people, despite their rank. And they're interesting too. They come from different backgrounds- Vahanian is very much a rogue and former outlaw- which means that there's diversity between them. And, which I consider a huge bonus, the women are written as being capable alongside capable men. Too often I feel that though a balance is almost struck, few writers get across an idea that the female characters can defend themselves as well as having men who have a vulnerable, soft side. But I see it here (most of the time) and it's nice.

The magic in the book is something which is still important. In previous books it talks about how the flow (source of magical aptitude and power) is becoming unstable and chaotic due to dark magic, and this continued in the book. Tris is actually a spirit mage, so he can summon and converse with dead spirits and all but go to the land of the dead. It means that one of the main characters is constantly aware of the flow and can relay to us what happens concerning it. Again, it's run-of-the-mill stuff, but it's well done.

Romance...I don't know. It's there but I get this feeling that everyone keeps pairing up. Tris and Kiara are still a nice little couple and I appreciate how this isn't mad love but companionship and support: which I like to think is a more realistic relationship. There's also a whole thing involving Kiara as the bride of Tris, but I don't want to give anything away on that front since I found it so interesting. Vahanian has Carina, and their courting continues and develops fairly quickly, which is why I feel like people are being paired off. I like them as a couple too, especially since they were always at odds (though it annoyed me that this has kind of dwindled and been lost).

I'm not doing a very good job of selling this book to anyone, but I genuinely believe in my heart of hearts that this is a good book and part of that the reason is because Gail Z. Martin is such an excellent storyteller and craftswoman  for the characters and turmoil. One of the huge boons of this and the other books is that it is so easy and so pleasant to just get lost in this story for a few hours.

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