After the carefully crafted intrigue and excitement of Dragon and Phoenix I was super excited to read Bard’s Oath. I’m talking back in 1999, of course, when the Dragonlord books were brand new. So you can imagine that I stalked amazon so that I could order the third installment as soon as possible. But…it didn’t show up. For some years. So I checked out Joanne Bertin’s website. She’d finished the harp, but it sounded like there’d been some health problems in her family. And then, one day, the website went down. Around 2011, cover art for Bard’s Oath began circulating, but still no sign of a book I could order.
In the end, I waited fourteen years to read this book for the first time. It was finally released in 2013 and my first thought upon completion was that it was a tale well worth waiting for. This is, without a doubt, the longest I have ever waited for a sequel in my life, and with such a gap there’s always the fear that the quality will suffer, or the writing style will change. The most prolific authors tend to release at least one book a year, sometimes more than one, depending on the complexity of the individual volumes. Some authors will release a book once every few years or so. Bertin’s case was fairly unusual because the title was announced when the previous book was published, something that is not always the case.
But again, this book was just about everything I could have hoped for. Not only do our main protagonists return, but we also see how little clues and hints dropped in the previous two volumes have prepared the path for the reader. Lord Sevrynel, the passionate horse breeder from the first book, is the host of the annual Balyranna Fair at which the characters converge. We have Bard Leet who was unexpectedly found at Dragonskeep, reading some unsettling old books. We even get the explanation of why Leet and Otter cannot stand each other.
Then there’s the new elements, such as the Beast Healers and the Healwort Guild. The former are people who possess the magic to heal animals, and who have familiars that aid them in their work. The latter are skilled herbalists who may also possess a touch of magic, the same way bards do. We even get a bit of information concerning some of the many gods worshipped in the lands. It’s a pity we don’t have maps, but I believe Bard’s Oath is the first time Bertin uses the phrase “Five Kingdoms” to describe the region (continent?) where most of the stories take place. From what I’ve read, I would guess those kingdoms to be Cassori, Kelneth, Yerrih, Assantik, and Pelnar. Jehanglan is on a different landmass south of Assantik (the southernmost Kingdom) and Pelnar is probably the northernmost, where Dragonskeep lies.
Of course, maps aren’t strictly necessary for this series, because while the second and third books involve journeys, they’re glossed over for the most part as we hasten to the location of the plot. We don’t really need to glance at a map and figure out the route taken because it doesn’t have much, if any, bearing on the story. Kind of like how Elizabeth Haydon glossed over much of the War of the Known World – either Bertin didn’t want to write about endless traveling, or she wrote just enough to acknowledge that you can’t teleport from point A to point B.
I can’t say for certain if I expect Bertin to add to this series in the future. I know I would love to see her continue it, if only because of how long and how strongly I’ve loved these books. I’d even suspect that the next book would move Pod into the role of main character now that she’s been introduced. There’s nothing in Bard’s Oath to indicate an intent to continue the series (not like last time) and Bertin’s current blog is, well, gathering a good four years of dust at this point. My suspicion is that she may be planning a fourth entry, but is unwilling to announce it after the insanely long delay on the third. I’ll simply keep checking periodically just as I did before.
Lastly, I know that quotes by famous people sell books, and that when publishers get a particularly good quote from a well-known author, they’re happy to use it over and over again. The one that sticks in my mind is from Stephen King about Mercedes Lackey, as it’s appeared on the covers of several of her books. “She’ll keep you up long past your bedtime,” he says, which I always have to admit is true. I bring it up because it’s nice that Bertin’s three books have three different quotes, but the one on Bard’s Oath is the most intriguing in many ways. It was in response to reading The Last Dragonlord, and was from the one and only Anne McCaffrey. It’s a damn shame that she never lived to see the third book published, but even so, the fact that she apparently stayed up until one-thirty in the morning just to finish the first book speaks for itself.
I’ll spend more time singing McCaffrey’s praises another day though. Tonight, the stars shine on Joanne Bertin’s Dragonlords.