Slaves of the Mastery picks up several years after the events of The Wind Singer and in plot and structure is similar to its predecessor, though not as original in thought or imagery. Once again, the book examines a dystopic setting. In this case it is The Mastery, a city-state of slaves and masters, one of whose leaders has raided the Manth city and taken its inhabitants, including the main characters from book one, into slavery. The book once again focuses on the Hath family (including this time Pinto, the baby in book one, who is accorded more of a place here) and a small circle of friends as they first are first taken, then herded into a forced march from Amaranth to The Mastery, then attempt to escape.
Kestrel and Bowman, the two siblings and the main focus, are separated early on and as did the first book, this one soon evolves into a split structure, interweaving between Bowman and his family’s march and Kestrel’s attempts to follow them in the guise of a servant to a vain and powerful princess on her way to marry sight unseen the chosen son of the Mastery’s leader. Eventually, the two stories coincide in the climax of the book.
This is certainly a children’s novel, and the slim setting details, quick pace, and thin characterization are what one would expect. The book, however, is much darker than usual for this age group in terms of tone and specific detail and can be jarringly so at times. Nicholson certainly doesn’t sugarcoat despair or tragedy here. Being a children’s novel, coming-of-age themes are readily apparent and Nicholson does a good job of showing the development of Bowman, Kestrel, their friend Mumpo, and Kestrel’s princess. If their development is predictable or obvious, it is probably more a nature of the genre than the writing, though children’s literature doesn’t preclude a more subtle touch. Other characters are sketchy and somewhat two-dimensional. This unfortunately includes the mother and father, who play a major role. The mother especially is not only not fully fleshed out but is actually pretty annoying as a character.
The plot is not as episodic as the first one, which allows for a tighter focus and more growth in side characters as they are given more pages to develop. One of the strengths of the first book’s episodic nature, however, was that it gave Nicholson full reign to indulge his imagination and while he didn’t hit a home run for each adventure, he came up with enough startlingly imaginative events that it kept the book fresh and exciting. This book isn’t as imaginative and therefore also not as interesting or compelling.
The lessons of the first book were pretty simple but here William Nicholson moves into more thoughtful, more abstract, more open-ended worlds. If the characterization is perhaps overly simple for the audience, he certainly does not condescend when it comes to the larger issues of the book, which give pause for thought to any adult let alone a child or young teen. Once again, the book closes with a sense that there is more to come and if this one isn’t as strong as the first, it holds interest enough to make the reader hope for better in the third and keep on with the series.
Wind on Fire — (2000-2002) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Kestrel Hath’s schoolroom rebellion against the stifling caste system of Aramanth leads to explosive consequences for her and her family: they are relegated to the city’s lowest caste and are ostracized. With nothing left to lose, Kestrel and her twin brother, Bowman, do the unthinkable: they leave the city walls. Their only hope to rescue the rest of their family is to find the key to the wind singer, a now-defunct device in the city’s center, which was once the course of happiness and harmony in Aramanth. But the key was given to an evil spirit-lord, the Morah, in exchange for the Morah’s calling off its terrible army of Zars. Armed with desperate bravery, wits, and determination, Kestrel, Bowman, and a tagalong classmate set off to find the key. Along the way they meet allies and foes, but in order to succeed in their quest, they must face the most sinister force of all: the powerful Mora