Note — this review refers to the second book of six in the US edition, not the first of three in the UK edition (which was split into two books for the US edition).
Chaz Brenchley’s Outremer series creates a richly imagined world populated by people who feel real. The pace is slow and unhurried, but it’s always clear that the story is going somewhere, and worth following. It’s solidly based in the real history of the Crusader kingdoms, but places them in a universe where the magic of that time and place is real, making for a compelling and different take on the fantasy genre.
This book opens where the previous volume left off, with the young squire Marron having to face the consequences of his choice to protect the Ransomers from a stealth invasion. It’s clear from the very first scene that this is no fluffy fantasy, where only redshirts die — Brenchley unflinchingly shows that Marron’s choice was between two evils, and that people he cares for would suffer greatly no matter which choice he made. It’s close to horror in its intensity, but it’s not gratuitous.
The pattern continues through the book, with choices having to be made by most of the characters, some lesser and some greater, but never easy choices. If you’re looking for a nice simple Good Versus Evil, look elsewhere. This series has complex characters reacting to complex situations, and actions don’t always have the consequences someone intended.
This volume develops the relationships already shown in the first volume, and shows more of two characters who were introduced relatively briefly. One of the plot hooks in the first volume provides much of the plotline for Julianne and Elisande, as they try to obey the djinni’s request/order to Julianne that she go where she is sent, and marry where she must. The promise proves both more complicated and more painful to keep than Julianne had imagined. And one of the hints for Marron and Sieur Anton comes to fruition, but Marron finds his own promises, to himself and to others, clashing with each other.
Some of the secrets hinted at in the first volume are unveiled — including the mystery at the heart of the titular tower, a strange edifice in the heart of the fortress of Roq de Rancon. But it’s clear that the characters still have a long journey ahead of them, and lessons to learn.
The series offers a fascinating world and well-developed characters, including strong female characters who feel integral rather than a nod to the female readership. It’s all presented in exquisite prose that’s a delight to read.
The US edition of the series is now out of print, although new stock is still available in some shops. The UK edition from Orbit is still in print. The books are also available within the UK direct from the author — only the UK editions are listed, but if you’d prefer the US editions it’s worth asking if there’s stock.