PLOT SUMMARY: Over a millennium ago, Mornhavon the Black, heir to the Arcosian Empire, crossed the great sea hoping to replenish his depleted country by conquering the rich lands of Sacoridia. But Mornhavon underestimated the defenders of this far away land, and after years of siege, Mornhavon and his armies were vanquished — but not before Mornhavon resorted to desperate, dark magics that rendered his twisted spirit immortal. Eventually, Mornhavon was captured and imprisoned in Blackveil Forest, with Blackveil’s perimeter enclosed and protected by the magical D’Yer Wall.
For the thousand years since the end of that Long War, Blackveil Forest has been a dangerous place — corrupted by the spirit of this eternally malicious entity, its flora and fauna twisted in monstrous ways. But in the many centuries since the war’s end, knowledge of the working of magic has slowly disappeared from Sacoridia, due to the fear and prejudice of a people traumatized by the memory of the terrifying sorceries of Mornhavon’s invading army. Even the protective magic that created and maintained the D’Yer Wall has been lost.
But this once-impermeable barrier has now been breached, allowing Blackveil’s malignant influence to begin to seep into the lands beyond the wall, threatening all of Sacoridia once again.
Karigan G’ladheon is a Green Rider, a seasoned member of the elite messenger corps of King Zachary of Sacoridia. Though Karigan was recruited to the Riders seemingly by chance, she has achieved more than any Rider since the corps was founded during the Long War, and has even been made a Knight of the Realm, the first to be so honored in over two hundred years. Karigan wears the magical brooch of the First Rider, an artifact that enables her to “fade,” sometimes to the point of traversing the barriers of time and space. Because of this extraordinary ability, she was able to enter Blackveil and transport the spirit of Mornhavon into the future, buying precious time for her country. Time for the Riders to scour the land searching for lost magical documents, and for members of Clan D’Yer to study the wall, hoping to uncover the secrets of their ancestors.
But Sacoridians are not the only people interested in the fate of Blackveil. For eons before the Long War, the peninsula where the tainted forest now stands belonged to the Eletians, an immortal race. With Mornhavon temporarily absent, they plan to send a small delegation into the forest to see what has become of their long-lost city, Argenthyne. But King Zachary senses the secretive Eletians are not being completely honest with him, and insists that an equal number of Sacoridians accompany them. Karigan, because of her previous experience in Blackveil, is an obvious choice for this perilous expedition.
Though Mornhavon is gone, the forest is still a treacherous and unnatural place filled with monstrous creatures and deadly traps. Plus, no one knows how far in the future Mornhavon has been sent — a hundred years? Ten years? A few years? Maybe even less? And unbeknownst to the contingent of Eletians and Sacoridians, another small group has entered the forest: a contingent of Arcosian descendents who have kept Mornhavon’s dark magic alive in secret for centuries, and who now plan to avenge their long ago defeat by bringing Sacoridia to its knees…
CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a reluctant heroine with incredible magical powers she did not know she possessed, an ancient evil bent on conquering the land, quests, a medieval-influenced feudal system, an elf-like race, and many other familiar tropes, the Green Rider series is traditional epic fantasy in the vein of J.R.R. Tolkien, Tad Williams, Terry Brooks, Kate Elliott, L.E. Modesitt Jr., Greg Keyes, Jennifer Roberson, and David Farland.
FORMAT/INFO: Blackveil is 663 pages long divided over many unnumbered/titled chapters. Also includes a map of Blackveil/Argenthyne. Narration is in the third person via several different points-of-view, both major characters and supporting ones as well as heroes and villains, including the main protagonist Karigan G’ladheon; Laren Mapstone, captain of the Green Riders; Xandis Pierce Amberhill; Grandmother of the Second Empire, Alton D’Yer; Lady Estora, King Zachary’s betrothed; and a few other minor players. Blackveil is the fourth volume in the Green Rider series after Green Rider, First Rider’s Call and The High King’s Tomb. Enough background information is provided for readers new to the series to jump in with Blackveil, but it’s not recommended. As far as the ending, expect a series of cliffhangers to conclude Blackveil.
ANALYSIS: It’s hard to believe, but the first Green Rider novel was released in 1998. Since then, my taste in books has evolved considerably. Fantasy may remain my favorite genre, but I’m more willing and eager to try out different kinds of novels, and the fantasy I enjoy the most these days tends to be of the less traditional variety. That said, there will always be a special place in my heart for traditional epic fantasy, which is why I couldn’t wait to read Blackveil. At the same time, however, I worried the book would suffer from the same issues that hindered The High King’s Tomb. Unfortunately, I was right.
First, though, the good news. Fans of the series will be pleased to learn that Blackveil does not deviate much from the formula established in the first three Green Rider books. Characters are still likable and well-developed with romance a major theme; the action remains exciting and family-friendly — for the most part at least; and Kristen Britain’s writing is once again charming and accessible, while demonstrating noticeable improvement with her prose. In short, most of the ingredients that made the first three Green Rider novels so much fun to read are still present in Blackveil.
The problem with Blackveil, the same problem that plagued The High King’s Tomb, is with the story. Or more precisely, the concern that Kristen Britain is starting to follow in the footsteps of Robert Jordan and making her fantasy series longer than necessary. After all, the Green Rider series was originally promoted as a trilogy, but obviously we’re at book four now with a fifth volume already in the works, and who knows how many other volumes yet to be published. Personally, I don’t mind that the author is extending the series — I really enjoy the characters and the setting, after all — but the manner in which Kristen Britain is prolonging the Green Rider saga is disheartening. Instead of focusing on the main story arc involving Mornhavon the Black, Second Empire and Sacoridia, the series has become weighted down with trivial matters like Karigan’s love life, court politics and family drama. This was a major issue in The High King’s Tomb, and sadly Blackveil suffers from the same problem.
As the title implies, the fourth book in the Green Rider series revolves around the corrupted forest Blackveil and the different factions who seek something there, including Grandmother, the Eletians, and Karigan. This storyline, which features some of the most thrilling moments in the novel, is a lot of fun to read. The problem is that it’s overshadowed by such mundane matters as Karigan dealing with family secrets; the numerous romantic complications that arise concerning Karigan, Lady Estora, Alton D’Yer and Estral Andovian; court politics involving King Zachary’s marriage, assassination attempts and a power-hungry advisor; and even a masquerade ball. While these subplots are there to add depth and substance to the characters and main story arc in the series, they just take too long to develop, significantly slowing down the pace of the novel and bloating the page count. To make matters worse, a number of subplots fail to progress very far — including the breach at D’Yer Wall, the pending war against Second Empire, and Xandis Pierce Amberhill’s fascination with pirates and the sea kings — resulting in cliffhangers that are difficult to stomach considering the lengthy wait between volumes, while the story itself offers very few surprises due to familiar ideas and transparent plotting.
Apart from these issues with the story and concerns about the extended length of the series, Kristen Britain’s Blackveil has everything that GREEN RIDER fans could hope for including romance, adventure, humor, time travel, dark magic, entertaining drama, ghosts, prophetic visions, and much more. In fact, even with all of the problems the book suffers from — bloated page count, trivial subplots, cliffhangers, etc. — Blackveil is still one of the better entries in the series. Unfortunately, I can only recommend Blackveil to die-hard Green Rider fans and anyone who loves to read traditional epic fantasy and is not bothered by archetypes and tropes. As for those who want something different, it would be wise to look elsewhere…