December 29, 2005


The Dark Flight Down. By Marius Sedgwick. Wendy Lamb Books. $15.95.

Falcondance. By Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Delacorte Press. $14.95.

     A reader expects something rip-roaring at the end of a multi-book fantasy series.  A middle volume may flag a bit – most do – but the conclusion needs to pull everything together, reward the good, punish the evil, and leave the reader feeling that the long journey was worth the trip.

     These two books’ conclusions may do that for some readers, but probably not all.  The Dark Flight Down is actually the second half of a story rather than the more usual third part of a trilogy.  In his prior novel, The Book of Dead Days, Marius Sedgwick was able to weave an interesting journey around a fairly standard sorcerer’s-apprentice plot.  The magician Valerian – who, it turned out, might have been the apprentice Boy’s father – was undone at the end of the first book, but the future of Boy himself was uncertain.  This sequel starts with Boy on the run – but he is soon captured and taken to the emperor’s palace, where he encounters a world of far greater splendor than he has ever known…and one whose dark undercurrents and treachery are all too familiar to him.  Boy and his friend, Willow, have to deal with scheming courtiers, depraved necromancers, and a frightening entity called the Phantom.  But Boy’s greatest danger may come in the form of the apparently well-meaning Kepler, who has cast Boy’s horoscope and learned a secret of great importance.  All these familiar currents are eventually sorted out in a familiar way, leading to a predictable climax that may have readers wondering whether the trip was worthwhile after all.

     The journey in Falcondance is a longer one, since this is the third book of a trilogy – three-book series being the norm in fantasy at least since J.R.R. Tolkien (who, unknown to most modern fantasists, actually wrote The Lord of the Rings as a single, extremely long novel).  The first two books of Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’ The Kiesha’Ra series, Hawksong and Snakecharm, established a fascinating world of interrelated shapeshifters, each group having its own customs, strengths, weaknesses and worries.  The settings were generally more interesting than the plots and characters: the latter settled into Romeo-and-Juliet mode with the love between an avian and a serpiente.  The most powerful of the shapeshifters, the falcons, are feared and hated by the other groups (in our world, of course, falcons prey both on other birds and on snakes).  Falcondance focuses on a young falcon named Nicias, who lives in the unified avian-serpiente land as a royal guard and endures the distrust and dislike of others at court.  Nicias ends up returning to the falcons’ land of Ahnmik, where he confronts a choice between duty and destiny – the sort of thing fantasy protagonists run into all the time.  Falcondance could possibly spawn further sequels, but the book comes to a satisfactory if not very original end, and Atwater-Rhodes – a talented young writer who created her first novel at age 13 – may do better to turn her hand to deeper characters and more innovative plots…if she can.

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