Keeper of the Keys by Janny Wurts
In this second episode of THE CYCLE OF FIRE, Ivainson Jaric witnesses some crucial history: how his father the Firelord and Anskiere the Stormwarden, both Vaere-trained sorcerers, bound the demons at Elrinfaer; how his father went mad and betrayed Anskiere; and how, though the demons were eventually bound, the land was destroyed in the process. Jaric also receives forewarnings, in the form of visions, of what the future will hold if he does not master his powers to help Taen and Anskiere subdue the rising demonkind who have now recruited Emien, Taen’s brother, as one of their leaders.
Keeper of the Keys is a “middle book,” so much of the plot involves Jaric’s gradually increasing realization and conviction that he can no longer deny the world the talents he was given as Firelord’s heir, even though he risks the madness that his father suffered. Though there are many exciting episodes in Keeper of the Keys, they mainly serve to get Jaric ready to prepare himself for the future.
Janny Wurts’ story is creative and I especially like the fantasy/science fiction mix which is reminiscent of Andre Norton’s WITCHWORLD. Wurts’ characters are likable and the transitions they go through, especially Jaric’s, are realistic (though I was really ready for Jaric to man up by the end of this book). I especially like a couple of the gruffer characters: The Kielmark (Lord of Cliffhaven and King of Pirates) and his captain Corley. Wurts is particularly good with these types of characters and they are a nice counterpoint to Jaric’s occasional whininess.
I listened to Keeper of the Keys on audio (Audible Frontiers) with narrator David Thorpe. Thorpe’s enthusiastic voice is charming and I read on Ms. Wurts’ forum that he has all of the names and places pronounced correctly. I have one complaint, though — something I mentioned in my review of Stormwarden and which I’ve now realized may be specific to the audio version: Though the dialogue is quite nice and the scenery and action are clearly described, I find that, for me at least, the occasional wordiness and frequent use of participial phrases at the beginning of sentences reduces the vividness of my mental imagery and interrupts the plot’s tension. This occurs in sentences constructed this way:
- Rooted in total acceptance of the powers which had torn her from youth, her poise was an embarrassment.
- Inured to the pain of stressed tendons, he wrenched his body upwards and hooked his forearm over the edge.
- Cued by a shift in his master’s stance, Corley slipped his whetstone in his pocket.
When read out loud, especially with Mr. Thorpe’s enthusiastic voice, passages with several of these types of sentences occasionally feel choppy and the action sometimes feels sluggish. Interestingly, when I checked the print version, this was not so much of an issue — maybe because I read faster than the audiobook reader narrates, or because I process the entire participial phrase at once instead of with the same pause and inflection that Thorpe gives each one. When I’m listening to the audiobook I also notice that Ms. Wurts has a preference for polysyllabic words, but I didn’t notice this in the print version — probably because I don’t “hear” the separate syllables when reading. Because I’m a Strunk & White kind of girl, the conspicuousness of the style affected my enjoyment of the audio version, but it’s only likely to bother weird people like me. (Weird people such as me, I mean.) I should also mention that THE CYCLE OF FIRE is Janny Wurts’ first epic and that I prefer her later style.
But I’m looking forward to Shadowfane, the last novel in THE CYCLE OF FIRE. I don’t doubt that Jaric and Taen will save the world, but it will be fun to see how they triumph, to find out what happens to Emien and Anskiere, and to learn more about the history of the Vaere and the Corinne Dane. Janny Wurts writes with creativity and passion, so I’m expecting an exciting finale!
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