For a war that’s been building for seven books, that was fairly short. The Hollow Queen is just over 400 pages of story, and the rest is a surprising list of characters and places. I say surprising because while every volume has contained a decent map of the Middle Continent, this is the first time the Symphony of Ages has ever chosen to give us the standard aids of a long and epic fantasy series.
But I still feel like it was a very short war, for all it’s supposed to be the War of the Known World. There were a lot of characters in a great many locations doing things, and it felt like many scenes were snippets, maybe two full pages in length, an update for that character. It was also difficult to judge how much time was passing from scene to scene, and there were many important battles that simply weren’t written, just mentioned after their conclusion when we returned to the characters involved.
It contrasts greatly with another long series I’ve been following for some years, David Weber’s Safehold. Safehold may read like a reimagining of 18th century naval battles, but it is actually science fiction taking place far in the future. In that series, we really are tracking an entire planet’s worth of wars, battles, and politics, so the book is divided up by months, and each section then tells us exactly where we are focusing for that scene. Admittedly, The Hollow Queen continues using the excerpt maps I had previously mentioned and details where exactly the scene takes place. But Safehold makes it a lot easier to keep track of time. I will also point out that a cast of characters has been an integral part of the books for most of the series…and that said list was well over sixty pages in the most recent volumes.
Back to Elizabeth Haydon. I’d guess that, unlike David Weber, she is not so interested in military history and chooses to write battles as important moments of the story, not to be the entire book. So, because this volume is almost all war, it is clearly shorter, because the author didn’t want to write about war. If that makes sense at all.
It’s also interesting that this is the first book in which I’ve noticed Haydon using swear words. Specifically “shit” and “fucking”. Up until now I only recall seeing more acceptable variations. “Shit” was usually replaced by the fictional Bolgish word “hrekin” and “fucking” could be anything from “knobbing” to “buggering” and a whole bunch in between. Clearly this was a conscious decision on the part of the author, though I’m not entirely certain why things changed. It’s not like these were meant for kids before, not with one of the main characters having been a prostitute and there being some very frank discussions of sex, genitals, and related topics. In this volume though it just seemed…cruder, and more obvious. Frankly, it robs the series of some of its charm.
HEY. THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS.
In the end, I am a little disappointed because I made a prediction to myself about Talquist’s quest for the Child of Time. He was told he had to eat the Child’s beating heart at the moment of its death in order to gain immortality. When he was demanding its location of Rhonwyn, the Seer of the Present, before he killed her, she told him that she and her sisters were called the Children of Time at one point. After all, the three of them were the Seers of Future, Present, and Past. Which means, with the death of Anywyn, Seer of the Past, along with Rhonwyn, Manywyn was left as the last of the original Children of Time. Since we’re seeing a dimunition of the ancient characters and the amount of magic in the world, it would only make sense to me that eating Manywyn’s heart would fulfill the prophecy, augury, and quest.
On the other hand, seeing Talquist dead doesn’t exactly make me cry. The man may not have been as reprehensible to me as Tristan Steward, but that’s undoubtedly because he wasn’t a major character for very long.
OKAY, SPOILERS ARE DONE NOW.
I don’t really have much left to say, but I do want to point out that I love sharing my love of books with people and so while I’ve tried to be relatively circumspect in these posts, I do want to keep from spoiling key parts of these books on the off chance anyone decides to read them. Yes, I’ve surely given away some things by now, but I do intend to clearly mark anything that is quite specific that you really wouldn’t know from a casual glance.