They key to a good story that involves combat is the gradual increase of severity and scale. Go up too fast too soon, and you have something akin to Dragonball Z where every single one of the characters is ridiculously overpowered and death is just a minor inconvenience. Of course, I suspect that if Akira Toriyama had known how long the series would go on, he might not have allowed it to go so far so fast.
This is an element that Lauren has been skillfully controlling. Sere from the Green has some mysterious figures, mostly one-on-one fights, but nothing super telling in the grand scheme of things. Through Storm and Night has tougher fights than the first book, but still not super special. From the Ashes brings in the Grenich Corporation and adds the experiments to the mix with full knowledge – we’d seen them before, but didn’t have a good understanding of what they truly were. Now, in Haunted by the Keres, the series has moved into the opening skirmishes of war. The incidents and even the climax of this book may seem big – the biggest battle yet in the series – but when you consider that this is going to be a War of the Worlds in every sense of the word, it’s still just a minor incident in the end.
Where do I even begin? Here we get some real information about the other worlds. There are six in total that Lauren deals with on a regular basis, the first and second being Earth and the Meadows, where the guardians live. Long ago, before the War of the Meadows, other worlds were colonized by various allies of the guardians and shape-shifters. These groups include the lycanthropes, the vampires, the Seelie Court, and the Mage Orders. The Seelie court includes a wide variety of creatures from folklore that include, but aren’t limited to elves, dwarves, goblins, pixies, and kelpies. There’s a lot of variety though. The Mage Orders are sorcerers, enchantresses, etc. They seem to be descended from guardians in some way, but they don’t have all the same abilities, having chosen to focus on magic instead.
Together, these other races represent the ancient alliance that fought together against the forces of Chaos in the War of the Meadows. I wish I had a good idea of how long ago those events took place, but it’s long enough that there aren’t a lot of people who are still alive from those times, despite all these people being immortal. The common statement is that people’s grandparents or ancestors fought in that War. And, of course, it’s been long enough that most people have become complacent in peace, allowoing Chaos, now Set, to encroach heavily and undetected.
I want to take a detour with Set being the ultimate villain in these books, especially because he was formerly known as Chaos. In the book Gatefather, the one that made me give up on Orson Scott Card, we learn that the ultimate villain was and has always been Set. Except that it’s not actually Set as in the Egyptian god but Satan. And Danny North is Jesus. And no, none of this is particularly subtle. Don’t get me wrong, this is not at all where any of Lauren’s work is going, I just find it interesting that two series that were running relatively parallel releases have this similar villain concept, even if one goes to a religious extreme and the other takes it and makes it her own. In Lauren’s world, the guardians inspired various mythologies across the planet. In Card’s…something similar happens, but then we go to this deeper level where his proselytizing is pretty damned obvious.
Anyway, it’s just something that has been running through my brain of late. And it’s not nearly as bizarre as my space blob mental image.
From there I continued with the very shiny brand-new book, The Dwelling of Ekhidna. Which has pretty explicitly stated what I’ve suspected for a few books now – that Set owns some guardian on the High Council, possibly more than one. There’s a couple obvious choices (male guardians are portrayed as very hidebound and I can’t help wondering what demons Lauren’s exorcising there) and at least one less obvious choice. This book also introduces Eris. Yes, that’s the name of the goddess of discord and she excels in created it. Eris also happens to be Passion’s older sister, making her Elektra and Isis’ aunt.
Also Orion and Roan had a screaming match not only in front of the protector leaders, but also the Queen of the Seelie Court. Inner me is still snickering about this.
The Dwelling of Ekhidna showcases some Grenich experiment series we haven’t seen before, particularly the A-series, which stands for Arachnid. Yep, they have six arms. They’re also more individualistic than the regular run of experiments, which makes them more interesting characters, even when they have less screen time. The part where they practically worship Blitz for her rebellion is quite amusing.
I feel like one of the underlying themes of this book is how disaparate peoples and groups are able to work together to overcome adversity, and I appreciate that. This is definitely Lauren’s best work yet, even though I still caught a few small editing errors. I suppose not too many other people are going to notice them…but I did.
The other advantage of having Eris around is that she knows more about magic than any other guardian, and was able to begin explaining some things to the reader that we simply haven’t had a chance to learn yet. Which is fine, the story is told in a third person limited, so we can only know what the characters know. And since the Mage Orders refused to go to the summit, Eris is the first magical expert to really start breaking things down for us. Don’t get me wrong – she is an insanely obnoxious character that I don’t always care to read about. But she is very well educated and has a certain pride for knowing things no one else does. She’ll even share that knowledge when it doesn’t put her at a disadvantage. In some ways she’s the guardian most similar to an experiment, as she always likes a challenge.
It’s a little sad to realize that it will be a while before book six comes out, as Lauren is quite busy reworking Sere from the Green. I don’t know if she plans to alternate rereleases with new releases, or something else, but I know I’ll keep my eyes peeled for her new books from Snowy Wings Publishing.