The Belly of the Wolf
I wish I could say this excellent trilogy ended as well as it began. And it does end well, but without the originality of the first book, Lens of the World. While the second book, King of the Dead, began ten or so years after the first, this one starts twenty or so years further one. It deliberately calls back some of the key elements of those books, but never does much with them.
Magic and mysticism, somewhat distant an uncertain elements of book one, and only slight closer in book two, suddenly come much more to the fore, but without any attempt at explanation. Protagonist Nazhuret doesn’t consciously call on magic as he did in book two, it just happens, and more often than not, happens to him. It brings back key (and some non-key) characters, seemingly for no other reason than to tip its hat to them and to confound Nazhuret. It’s an unsatisfying method for a theme handled much more elegantly in earlier books.
This book also relies heavily on a history of the intervening years – a history that we’re not privy to. Even though its consequences conceptually drive the plot, all we get is the occasional hint here or there – even at the end, when knowledge is key. Even when we do seemingly know all the history, Nazhuret acts in ways that seem distressingly counter to his character or that have little foundation in prior years.
Despite those lapses, character is the strong point of the book. MacAvoy draws out Nazhuret’s intriguing introspection and adds some new, equally interesting characters to offset those that have fallen by the wayside (partner Arlin and King Rudof). I wish that she had worked as hard at setting these up as she did in having them act. Count Dinaos, for example, arrives suddenly, fully formed as an (apparently) well-known assassin who, jarringly, turns out to have many other roles as well, none of which are well signaled. He’s a bit of a stand-in for Nazhuret’s former mentor Powl in many ways, but it’s never really clear how he got there. Similarly, the actual resolution of the political issues the plot hinges on is something of a muddle.
I want to be clear that this is still a good book, and a decent conclusion to the trilogy. My disappointment is that, given MacAvoy’s skill and her success with the first books, this could have been much better. As it is, the series fades out more than it really resolves its plot.