Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fortress of Mist (Merlin's Immortals #2), by Sigmund Brouwer


After successfully (and bloodlessly) taking the city of Magnus in The Orphan King, young Thomas quickly learns that keeping a kingdom can be just as much of a challenge as acquiring one. Thomas finds himself up to his neck in political maneuvering, as the King demands his assistance in the ongoing war with the Scots, and treasonous spies try to incite the neighboring lords against him. Meanwhile, Thomas is plagued by seeming visions of the lovely (and supposedly dead) Isabelle. But it is Katherine, the kind, fire-scarred girl, who Thomas most wishes to see. Both women are drawn to Thomas, and both seek Thomas's allegiance (and his inherited collection of mystical books) for a powerful force: the Druids, who control so much of the land, and those who would oppose them. Will Thomas be able to hold Magnus in the face of these challenges? Will he align himself with the Druids, who offer limitless power and immortality? Will he side with their opponents? Or will he forge a separate path?

This installment isn't quite as chock full of fantasy goodness as the last one--there's more politicking, and lots and lots of talking. Still, there are potions and Druid 'spells' and (uneventful) battles and lots of disguises and lies and whatnot, so it's not a total loss.

The storyline here didn't feel quite as complete as The Orphan King--there, the central conflict (will Thomas be able to take Magnus?) was resolved, while still leaving plenty of fodder for future books (who are the Druids? Why do they want Thomas's books? Who are the Immortals? Are they good? What gives?). Here, the 'central conflict' is, well, I guess it's whether Thomas can keep Magnus, but it's kind of confusing. The big showdown involves Thomas's performance at the battle with the Scots, but there's all this stuff about Isabelle visiting him in the night, and secret passages, and Katherine popping up at various times in various disguises and chatting with some old guy about how Thomas had to side with them or else even though they would absolutely not tell Thomas anything about anything (including who they heck they are). It was fine to keep the Immortals and the Druids in the dark for the first volume, but we still  don't know anything about the Immortals, and all we know about the Druids is that they are eeeevil. Maybe. Probably. It got kind of confusing, honestly, and the closing pages felt more like an anticlimax or an internal break than the end of a book.

I found myself feeling oddly detached from the characters this time around. The humorous relief offered by the scamp and the knight Thomas befriended in the first book is absent from Fortress of Mist. It is, for the most part, a very, very serious book, and I don't think it needs to be. Katherine is still intriguing (if rather conveniently attractive), and I liked the Earl, but I found myself losing interest in Isabelle, Thomas, Geoffrey, and the others--especially reading about Thomas Struggling with the Burdens of Leadership.

Also, the spiritual content here is rather disjointed. Gervaise, the 'real' Christian in the series, continues to chat up Thomas about God and whatnot, but Thomas doesn't seem to undergo any real change or even have much in the way of inner monologue about spiritual matters. He's far more focused on dealing with the Druids, and has no time for God. If we're going to see the eventual conversion of Thomas, I think it would make more sense to lay better groundwork and show gradual heart change in each book.

I realize this series is an expansion of Brouwer's earlier Winds of Light series, but honestly, I think this particular volume needed to be fleshed out more or something. The Orphan King was a much more enjoyable read.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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