fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA fantasy book reviews Catherine Fisher Relic Master 3. The Hidden CoronetThe Hidden Coronet by Catherine Fisher

The Hidden Coronet is the third book of Catherine Fisher’s Relic Master series, following The Dark City and The Lost Heiress. While book one was quite strong, the sequel was solid but a bit disappointing, hurt by somewhat weak plotting and worldbuilding. The Hidden Coronet is much stronger and a welcome return to the quality of The Dark City.

It begins with several tense scenes — one involving Galen and Raffi trying to rid a house of an evil presence and the other concerning the attempted rescue of several prisoners, including a Keeper, sentenced to hang by the Watch. Eventually, Raffi, Galen, Carys, and the Sekoi from the first two books are back together, their numbers augmented by two: the rescued Keeper Solon and his fellow prisoner Marco, each of whom has his own secrets. Together they set out to seek the legendary Coronet of the Makers, which they believe is a relic of great power which might not only serve them against the evil creature (the Margrave) that Raffi saw in The Lost Heiress, but might also be a solution to the terrible and deadly changes in the weather that have been occurring. But they make troubled allies as mistrust soon begins to spread amongst them all, mistrust which only worsens once circumstances cause them to split, with the Sekoi and Carys heading off to an unusual gathering of the Sekoi people and Galen, Raffi, Solon, and Marco continuing on to the Maker’s Observatory. It all culminates in the best ending of the series so far.

As mentioned, the second book had some issues with plot, as well as with pace. The Hidden Coronet has fixed both problems. The opening conflict with Raffi and Galen in the house has an almost horror feel to it, while the rescue scene is a nick-of-time bit of adventure. Together, the two scenes start the book off running. There’s a bit of an interlude while the group comes together and before the Coronet quest comes into play. But the tension picks up again once they’re on the road — partly due to their attempts to avoid capture by the Watch, partly because of the weather issues cropping up, and partly because of Galen’s issues with keeping the Crow’s power and darkness in control. But the biggest reason for tension is the group dynamics, specifically the lack of trust, something we’ve seen before with the way Carys was under suspicion. She remains a question mark here, but none of the others are completely free of suspicion either. Another strength of the plot is the additional views we receive of the Sekoi and of the Maker’s past and current works. The Sekoi have been a complete cipher up ‘til now and we get some fascinating glimpses into their thinking as well as some concrete answers to some specific questions that have arisen, such as the purpose of the Great Hoard. It all builds up to an extremely strong ending that will probably catch young readers especially by surprise, if not more jaded older ones.

The worldbuilding is still a bit thin, the new settings more sketches than full realizations. As in the first few books, I wish she’d slow down at times and let us linger over some of her ideas and places, especially as what we do get really piques one’s interest and imagination. Part of that, I know, is the YA nature of the book (not every YA should be 700 pages long), so it is, I confess, at least partially an unfair complaint.

As in the prior two books, Carys is the most compelling character. She is still fierce, passionate, active; still an enlivening force in the novel; still a question mark, but now much more fully invested in the relationships and causes she’s become involved in. But here, in the third book, she’s finally being given some characters to match her. The Sekoi, who has always been interesting but up to now has mostly been played as an abstract mystery, blooms into a fully-fledged character here and I especially look forward to his journey forward in light of the ending. Galen, who has so far been somewhat monotone, is “greyed up” a bit as the reader (along with Galen himself and several characters) starts to become a bit uneasy at just what is happening to him with regard to the Crow within him. Solon is a solid character but Marco takes on a parallel role to the one Carys has been playing all along, the character who may or may not be a spy.

Finally, there’s Raffi. I’ve complained before that he has been too passive and even a bit dull. He also is sometimes problematic in that his magic abilities seem too carefully tailored and contrived to fit the dramatic situation — weak when the author needs them weak, strong when the author needs them strong. Both are still problems here. But while he still plays a pivotal if passive role, such as a conduit of necessary visions, I’m beginning to wonder if the problem with him is really a problem with me. Perhaps I’m just assuming he’s a main character and so he isn’t fulfilling my expectations as such. Or perhaps Fisher is simply being more patient than we usually see in developing a relatively weak and passive character into one who becomes independent and strong. There isn’t a lot of time left — only one book to go in the series — so while Raffi still isn’t the most interesting of characters, I’m going to hold off and see what she does with him in book four. There is a part of me that actually likes the idea that this kid hasn’t suddenly freed himself of his fear and passive nature in the relatively short time span of the novels’ events, none of which certainly would make him any less afraid; after all, he gets tossed from one possibly fatal situation to another. Though if this is Fisher’s intent, I would like to see her delve into it a bit more.

Better pacing and plotting, stronger characterization, and an excellent ending make The Hidden Coronet a strong addition to the series, and the novel whets the reader’s appetite for the concluding fourth. I was happy to see the series rebound from the small dip it took in The Lost Heiress. Recommended.

Relic Master (The Book of the Crow) — (UK: 1998-2001, US: 2011) Young adult. This series was previously published in the UK as The Book of the Crow. It was released as Relic Master in the US in 2011. Publisher: Raffi is apprenticed to the Relic Master, Galen, whose task it is to keep safe the relics of a bygone age. But his powers are weakening and he and Raffi set off to meet the makers in the City of Crow to find out why. Will they survive? Or will the ever-present Watch eliminate them.

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  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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