RogerBW's Blog

Lightborn, Alison Sinclair 17 June 2021

2010 fantasy, second of its trilogy. Both Darkborn (burned by light) and Lightborn (dissolved by darkness) are having political upheavals, with assassination only another tool in the kit. Someone seems to be trying to set them at war with each other. But will anyone listen in time?

Well, alas, this is a middle volume, and nothing is really resolved here. There are immediate perils, and even alliances among the diverse members of Team Let's Not Start A Pointless War are fraught and untrusting (tragedy being the conflict of good versus good, and all that). That's great stuff as far as it goes, but it goes only far enough to move people into place for the final book, rather than to come to even the brief pause in the action that ended the first one.

One of the things I most enjoyed about that first book was that it showed Balthasar and Telmaine, doctor and secret mage, as a solid married couple, each having their own adventures and emotional lives but succeeding in part because they were prepared to share information across the separate parts of society they were living in. This time Balthasar is almost entirely off-stage, and much as I enjoy reading about everyone else's adventures the book's made distinctly weaker without that central relationship. We spend a great deal of time with Telmaine, trying to keep her magic secret not only from Darkborn society (which frowns on mages) but from its mages (because it's not "pure" Darkborn magic but is influenced by something else). There's more of the Lightborn Floria White Hand, food-taster to their Prince and possibly involved in his assassination, but because she's on the run as a result (and then imprisoned for a while) the Lightborn story is split between her and the new Prince, and then the rogue mage he brings in to try to break the power of the mages' organisation which may be part of one of the many conspiracies… it all loses a bit of focus, which is unfortunate. Each of these stories is interesting in itself, and taken together they make a better story as events in one feed into events in another, but by constantly flipping between them each one loses its own force. This sort of multiple narrative is a very hard thing to do well, and Sinclair almost pulls it off.

The politics work well, though one's – deliberately – never clear how much is being influenced by the still-mysterious Shadowborn and how much is normal greed. The sense of everyone being driven into a war that most of them don't want is solid. But it's a very talky book in spite of some fine moments of action.

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Previous in series: Darkborn | Series: Darkborn | Next in series: Shadowborn

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