fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA fantasy book reviews Catherine Fisher Relic Master 1. The Dark City 2. The Lost HeiressThe Lost Heiress by Catherine Fisher

The Lost Heiress, Catherine Fisher’s follow-up to The Dark City, picks up the action a short while after the close of the first book. Galen, Raffi, and the Sekoi have left the city of Tasceron behind, while Carys has returned to the Watch. The book opens with a bang when Raffi and the others steal back the blue box relic from Alberic, the dwarf thief-lord who had stolen it from them in book one. Some time after that, Carys informs them that the Watch has discovered that the Emperor — long ago deposed — has a living granddaughter. The story then splits in two. One half follows Galen, Raffi, and the Sekoi as they try to find the titular character, all while avoiding both the Watch and Alberic, who is hot on their trail seeking revenge. Meanwhile, Carys is posted to the Tower of Song, a center of Watch activity and recordkeeping, and once the summer palace of the Emperor. There she hopes to learn more about her own past, even as she wrestles with just which side she is on: The Order of the Keepers, the Watch, or simply her own.

While still a solid read, The Lost Heiress doesn’t quite match the excellence of the first Relic Master book. One problem is the premise spelled out by the title. The lost heir to a crown sought by one side to reinstate and the other to kill is a pretty familiar plot point, and while it only is the heavy focus of action toward the very end, it does drive most of what the characters do, and so the whole book is a bit undermined by the cliché. Another problem is the book’s episodic nature, which has Raffi’s group traveling nearly non-stop and so we as readers seldom stay in one place long enough to get a feel for it. The quick movement from one setting to another undercuts the drama of each separate scene as well as the worldbuilding of each separate place. For example, Raffi’s group visits an Order oasis — a kind of Lothlorien or Andelain for those familiar with Tolkien or Donaldson — but while we’re told of its beauty and special nature, we’re in and out of it so quickly that we never truly feel it. The same holds true for the Tower of Song. Fisher gives us fantastic, tantalizing glimpses of the place and its strange, surreal rooms (the Gallery of Laughter, the Gallery of Tears) but again, it feels like a sketch of an outline of a place rather than a concrete, tangible setting. Which is too bad, because it had such great potential.

The action is often a bit anti-climactic once we’re past the opening 40 pages or so, with several tense scenes all too quickly and easily resolved, sometimes by too-easy magic, sometimes by too coincidental an event, such as a convenient rock fall, sometimes by a character acting a bit implausibly. Similar to the Tower of Song, Fisher sets us up strongly — several of the scenes have lots of potential for intense and/or drawn out tension — but they never quite achieve it. This makes the book feel both overlong and slight, while The Dark City felt exactly right. The one aspect of the plot that is consistently strong is the bit of history/myth we get on the Makers, especially the backstory we’re given on the Maker Kest and how he created horrible creatures and was punished for it. One of those creatures turns out to be still extant and causing trouble and if titles are a clue, will play a major role in the final book (book four). The way we get most of this backstory, via chapter interludes, snippets of myth, told stories, and visions, is nicely handled — concise, smoothly integrated, and doled out in just the right amount: enough to give us a sense of what happened but with enough clear gaps or distortions that we’re constantly wanting more.

If the plotting and world-building is a bit weak, what saves The Lost Heiress is Carys, who remains the most interesting character. She’s the most interesting because she is the most complex, torn between what she’s been taught all her life and what she’s experienced in a few short months. The reader is never really quite sure what side she is on because Carys herself never seems quite sure, and this creates not just a great character but an intense bit of plot tension whenever she is involved in the action with Raffi’s group. Raffi is surprisingly pallid and I hope he becomes more active and simply more interesting as the series continues. Right now he is wholly overshadowed by Carys (save for one act toward the end which seems to come a bit out of the blue from what we know of him). This would be fine if their storylines were together, but as it is, Raffi is a bit weak and passive to carry a separate plot line. It doesn’t help that Galen is a bit one-note and the Sekoi, while interesting for the mystery that still surrounds his motivation and his species, isn’t given much to say or do. When he is given some scenes, he certainly piques one’s interest and desire to know more. Alberic’s arrival does enliven things toward the end and he shows some good potential for future involvement as well, adding a hint of danger and darkness.

The Lost Heiress was, I admit, a bit of a disappointment after The Dark City. It was still a quick read — I read it in a single sitting — and while the plot and settings left me feeling underwhelmed, it was mostly because they didn’t fulfill the potential they had, so at least the underlying base was interesting enough. In other words, I mostly wanted more from Fisher, not less, which is generally a good sign. And Carys’ character arc, along with the back history of the world, made the book certainly worth reading. I’m just hoping that in the succeeding books the main plot strengthens and the other characters begin to rise to the quality of Carys — she can only carry so many books. 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.