Set amid the drama and cast of the 100 Years War (though more parallel than true history), this sequel to The Nameless Day continues the story of Thomas Neville, former cleric returned to his noble life, as he tries to complete the quest given him by archangel Michael — to retrieve a mysterious casket that will allow him to send back to hell the demons that now roam the world. As readers of the first book know (and only readers of the first one should read this), Thomas himself has become unsure of just which side is the “good” one in the battle between the demons and angels and his uncertainty continues throughout this book, though not quite as pronounced.
Though plagued by some of the same flaws as The Nameless Day (some character inconsistencies, some surprisingly careless writing), The Wounded Hawk manages to easily avoid the “middle book” syndrome. Instead of acting simply as a weaker bridge book to the trilogy’s conclusion, Wounded Hawk expands and deepens both the characters and the story, improving on its predecessor in all ways.
Some of the improvement occurs because the character/plot inconsistencies, while not completely evaded, are much reduced. Some of the improvement occurs because the main character of Thomas recaptures some humanity and thus is a much more palatable character with whom to spend hundreds of pages. Improvement also lies in the book’s tighter focus, mostly centering around a few personal relationships and the royal politics of England, specifically the battle between Richard II and Hal of Bolingbroke. It’s also a better paced book, with scenes moving quickly and (usually) smoothly from one to the other, with no sense of being bogged down. The plot, while still containing some twists and turns, some shifts of allegiance, is crisper and cleaner, less of a muddle than in book one. The characters are all much more interesting and are captured much more fully, even the secondary ones.
The book’s flaws are pretty much the same as in Nameless Day, though as mentioned they are greatly reduced. There are still annoying (though not infuriating) inconsistencies in character thoughts/actions and in points of view. Douglass has a tendency to tell us too much rather than allowing us to infer from actions or dialogue. Some actions seem a bit implausible. And some shifts in characters’ beliefs seem to move all too quickly. Noticeable as these are, however, the book’s strengths outweigh its flaws and I found myself pretty swept along in what was happening even as I found myself occasionally annoyed by how it was being presented. Certainly if you’ve read book one and enjoyed it, continue the series. If like me you had mixed feelings about book one, I’d strongly recommend giving the sequel a chance as it’s so much better. And if you really didn’t like book one at all, then you’re not reading this anyway so blah blah blah. Recommended.
The middle book of the Crucible trilogy is better than the first, but not without its flaws.
Thomas Neville, our protagonist, is slightly more bearable this time around, having shaken off some of his old vows and old prejudices. It’s a beautiful thing watching him come to love his wife Margaret, and reexamine some of his beliefs.
Meanwhile, Richard II is ruling cruelly and ineptly, Thomas’s boyhood friend Bolingbroke is beginning to make his play for the throne, and in France, Joan of Arc urges a reluctant king to act against the English. Sara Douglass has taken some liberties with chronology, but it doesn’t matter much, as her timeline works for the story and she explains in a foreword that she has used some creative license, so it doesn’t jar at all.
What does jar a bit is the head-hopping; we seem to bounce from POV to POV several times per scene. Also, the scheme that Bolingbroke and Margaret execute, with traumatic results for Margaret, just doesn’t quite make sense. I feel like I was supposed to either find it reprehensible or decide it was worth the eventual outcome, but instead? It just doesn’t make sense. I can’t figure out why these characters would have chosen that route.
On the positive side: Douglass builds to a big bang here. The secret that Thomas discovers is as shocking as it needs to be, and raises many questions about what will happen in the third book.
Finally, one more quibble. When Douglass sets her mind to it, she can write gorier scenes than many writers of outright horror. (I’m thinking of the miscarriage from Hades’ Daughter.) I got almost to the end of The Wounded Hawk and was pleased to think that she’d kind of toned down the gross-out.
Then I read the epilogue. Let’s just say that Douglass reassigns Edward II’s gruesome death to another figure — and describes it. In detail. In excruciating detail. Yes, the guy was a vicious character. But I don’t want to read about that happening to anyone.