by David Anthony Durham
Hardcover - $28 ($18 at Amazon!)
I first cracked the cover of The Other Lands with a great sense of anticipation, and from the first page to the last, David Anthony Durham did not disappoint.
The Other Lands continues the story of the three royal children of the Akaran family. They are Corinne, who is now queen, Dariel, who could have been king, but let the rule pass to Corinne, and Mena, the warrior princess. There are also several new characters, but it's difficult to introduce some of them without giving spoiling the plot.
Since Corinne resumed the Akaran rule of The Known Lands, the quota trade has continued, but the people have not resumed their dependence on mist, the drug that has kept the populace quiet and happy for hundreds of years. Since the people are sober, they are also restless. They object to sending their children off into an unknown slavery; and they object to crushing Akaran taxes. Corinne has resumed trade relations with the League, and in recompence for Dariel's burning of the League Platforms in the first novel, she has offered them certain lands that might have a warm place in the reader's heart. And they have most diabolical plans for those lands.
Right from the start, the League is up to something. They come to Corinne with a story of a captured spy, a situation that has been the ruination of their trade relationship with the people of the Other Lands. She asks Dariel to go with them to the Other Lands as her emissary. He reluctantly agrees, for they know he is the one who set fire to their platforms in Book 1. Both suspect treachery. Both are right.
Surprises await in the Other Lands, and they are not what you would expect.
In the meantime, Mena is ridding the world of foulthings, twisted creatures left behind by the Santoth after they came to the assistance of Aliver in Book 1. Each foulthing is worse than the last, until she finally tracks down the last one. And she finds a creature that is anything but foul. She forms a bond with the creature, whose nature may surprise you. Or, it may not.
And Corinne is up to more than simply ruling the Known World. She has been studying the Song of Elenet, and she has mastered its music. She begins to use it openly, and the people both love her and are terrified of her, with good reason. She is chilling, but lovable at the same time. As Mr. Durham managed with Hanish Mein, he has created an engaging villain in Corinne. Except I'm not sure she's the real villain. The League would be a candidate for that, or something else, altogether.
There are a couple of marked improvements over the first volume, Acacia. One, is dialog, which Mr. Durham now writes out rather than summarizes, for the most part. The other is Mr. Durham's use of cliffhanger chapter endings. It became very difficult to put the book down at the end of the chapter, or even at the end of a scene break. More than one time, I continued the reading session longer than I intended, for I simply didn't want to put it down. Most of the time, I only put it down when I got to Rialus chapters. But even then they were engaging, because Rialus continues to somehow find himself working with the enemy--despite his best intentions otherwise--so Rialus's point-of-view often gives a window into what the enemy is doing. It is a particularly masterful touch.
The only part that made me wince was a hint of a romantic threesome forming in book three. Nothing happened in this book, but I'm a bit leery about where this is heading. I was hoping for a great romance with this character, but this isn't exactly what I had in mind. In general, the romantic subplots in this novel are not strong. Dariel and Mena are both involved with characters that come across as weaker than themselves, but I understand that this is probably intentional. The best romance in this series so far took place in The War with the Mein, and it was between Corinne and her captor and enemy, Hanish Mein. The simultaneous love and hate between them made for some great tension. Since all these characters are so much larger than life, the possibility for a wonderful, self-sacrificing romance is there.
One part in particular made me smile. A while back--back when I first wrote to Mr. Durham about the possibility of getting an advance copy--Mr. Durham replied with something unexpected. After re-reading my multi-part review of Acacia: The War with the Mein, he decided he needed to tweak The Other Lands. He didn't tell me exactly what he had changed, just that my review had affected the story.
I recognized it as soon as I reached that part of the story. Which was very cool.
Doubleday did a fabulous job with the book itself, with maps on both inside covers, the inclusion of a synopsis of book one (no substitute for the original!), and an awesome cover.
Oh, and the ending. It will blow you away. Yes, it's a cliffhanger. But for me, it was still an ending that satisfied, mostly because it was completely unexpected. As was much of the rest of the story. This is now my favorite epic fantasy. I am very much looking forward to reading the next volume. But
Here is my multi-part review of Acacia: The War with the Mein, plus some other stuff. Just scroll down.