August 23, 2007


Acorna’s Children: Third Watch. By Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Eos. $24.95.

Legends of the Riftwar, Book II: Murder in LaMut. By Raymond E. Feist & Joel Rosenberg. Eos. $14.95.

Warriors: The New Prophecy—Book 5: Twilight. By Erin Hunter. HarperTrophy. $6.99.

      Fantasy epics seem to grow almost of their own accord, taking in new characters, new worlds and, increasingly, new authors. The first two novels about Acorna, the unicorn girl, in which the title character tried to figure out who or what she was and where and with whom she belonged, were written by Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball. All the other Acorna tales – Third Watch is the 10th – pair McCaffrey with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. These books now move along with all the assurance of a well-oiled machine, delivering consistent plotting, pacing and characterization. In the Acorna’s Children trilogy, Third Watch is the conclusion, focusing on Acorna’s rebellious daughter, Khorii, who in the two earlier books of this sequence (First Watch and Second Wave) went on her own star journey and found a sister she had never known. She found an enemy, too – more than one, in fact, as Third Watch makes clear. Here Khorii finds herself and her family under attack, both by a mysterious power from afar and by evil closer to home. Readers cannot really pick up the story with this book, much of which makes no sense without the context of prior events: “The Khleevi invasion on Vhiliinyar destroyed the waterways and conduits for the time machine. It kept it from working properly there, and it probably would here, too.” And only existing fans of the series will likely put up with some of the excesses of the dialogue: “You think I’m stupid enough to let the head of House Harakamian out of my piratical clutches?” But fans of the Acorna tales will welcome this wrapup of the latest sprawling installment.

      Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar stories sprawl, too, having started with Honored Enemy (co-written with William R. Forstchen) and now continuing with Murder in LaMut (in which Feist’s coauthor is Joel Rosenberg). Set in the land of Midkemia, this second volume focuses on mercenaries Durine, Kethol and Pirojil, who are enjoying a welcome respite between battles when they are ordered to guide a woman and her husband safely to the city of LaMut. This would not be epic fantasy – or a Feist tale – if the journey proved straightforward, and of course it does not. A winter storm traps the travelers in a castle filled with schemers, involving the mercenaries in an unsolved murder and possibly making the political future of Midkemia their responsibility. As so often in epic tales of far lands, the dialogue often seems overly mundane and Earth-centric: “When the ship’s sinking it’s time to get overboard and not worry about what you’ve got stored in the hold, eh?” But the fast pace and rapid plot turns of Murder in LaMut will keep Riftwar fans guessing – and reading.

      Erin Hunter has not taken on coauthors in her Warriors projects, but her tales of cats as epic heroes and heroines seem to sprout more branches than the average tree. The original Warriors series ran to six books; Warriors: Power of Three has just begun; and the fifth book of Warriors: The New Prophecy is now available in paperback. Twilight, originally published last year, takes place after the warrior clans have settled into new homes. The harmony that made the clans’ survival possible starts to disappear as territoriality and pride again become divisive factors, and the clans start fighting among themselves. As in epics featuring human and quasi-human characters, the protagonists here engage in their share of infighting, too: within ThunderClan, for example, Squirrelflight and Brambleclaw argue intensely, and medicine cat Leafpool faces the same struggle between love and duty that all readers of epic fantasy know well. Perhaps because her stories are intended for younger readers – ages 10 and up – Hunter provides more guidance to settings and characters than do most fantasy authors, offering several maps and a list of major members of the various clans. Still, it can be hard to tell less-central cats apart, and while the clans’ enemies are ones that make sense for cats – in Twilight, the major external concern is badgers – the overall structure of Warriors: The New Prophecy breaks no new ground. Still, it is a treat for feline fanciers, and Hunter remains true to the characters and settings she creates.

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