THEY FOLLOW WHERE THE DAGGER LEADS
Ardhi, Sorrel and the excommunicated cleric, Saker Rampion, stow away on a ship to the Spice Islands. They must return stolen items of great power to Ardhi’s home, but there are ruthless men after this power, men who will kill to possess it.
At home in Ardrone, an army of demonic origin runs amok while Saker’s superiors in the church struggle to quell it. And the young queen Mathilda struggles with the possibility that her newborn child, the heir to the throne, may be linked to the corruption that has erupted throughout the land.
Sorcerers, lascars, pirates and thieves collide…
Reviewed by Ryan Frye
Think of a time when you thoroughly enjoyed the opening installment of a series… It’s probably not too hard a task, and honestly, not all that uncommon. Now, think of a time when you enjoyed the second installment of a series more than you enjoyed the first. For me at least, that’s more difficult. Sure, it happens, but once I’ve mentally checked off Empire Strikes Back, Deadhouse Gates, and… um, The Drawing of the Three, I’m forcing my brain into action, and who needs that? Suffice it to say, the second installment in a series is a tricky thing. That fresh, clean smell is gone, the characters are no longer new and exciting, and often (especially if we’re talking a trilogy) the characters tend to do a lot of moving around so that things are set up for the finale.
Well, The Dagger’s Path just so happens to be a second installment in a trilogy, it also follows a first-in-series, The Lascar’s Dagger, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So how did this second volume fare? Quite well in fact.
Larke does a number of things to ensure that the second book in her trilogy maintains the momentum of the first, all while injecting the novel with plenty of new stuff to make sure the book is equally as enthralling as the opening installment. She does this primarily by taking the reader to a completely new part of her world. In The Lascar’s Dagger, the action takes place in the Va-Cherished Hemisphere, with the focus on two countries that are vying for trade supremacy by setting up lucrative shipping routes to what folks call the Va-Forsaken Hemisphere. This time around, the story and the characters we met in book one are split between the two hemispheres.
When I read the first book, I was eager to see Larke explore the rest of her world, and I was pleased with the approach she took in The Dagger’s Path. All too often, the differences in culture are not explored with much depth in fantasy, but that is not the case here. I definitely felt like I was exploring a new and vastly different part of the world. Larke pulls this off by showing the lands of the Va-Forsaken Hemisphere through the eyes of characters the reader is familiar with: one who is a native to this part of the world, and other characters who are foreigners. That juxtaposition of views and experiences, in addition to the clash of cultures that results, created a great reading experience, and also a good lesson in multiculturalism.
Larke also keeps things fresh in The Dagger’s Path by fleshing out a couple of characters who had smaller roles in the previous novel. My favorite of these more-deeply-developed characters was Gerelda, a lawyer in the employ of the Va-Faith, who, against her instincts and better judgement, gets inadvertently pulled into the major plot currents of the series. Her POV sections provided the primary insight into happenings going on back in the Va-Cherished Hemisphere and I greatly enjoyed her courage, resourcefulness, and pragmatism. I know a character is good when I’m sad to see their POV sections switch to a different character, and giddy when their plot thread picks back up again.
So, Larke has dazzled me with sea-faring world exploration, and continued to develop her characters so that I’m increasingly invested in their lives… All very good, but the key component of a second book in a trilogy series is that it’s gotta leave me hungry for the final installment. Again, Larke succeeds with flying colors. The Dagger’s Path delivers some answers to a few of the series’ mysteries, unloads a couple epic surprises, and more or less sets things up for the third and final installment to be an all-out thrill-a-minute. By the end of The Dagger’s Path I was left feeling like the character’s I’ve become so invested in are well and truly fucked, the forces of “good” are completely with their backs against the wall and the only way of thinking things will end well is if you are completely delusional… Is there any better way to feel as a reader heading into the final installment of a series?
It’s a tall order to surpass the heights of a series opener, but Larke does just that with apparent ease. Now here I am stuck waiting for the series finale and believe me, it can’t come soon enough. If you haven’t already taken the plunge on The Forsaken Lands Trilogy, get on it. You’ll be thankful you did.
The Dagger’s Path and The Lascar’s Dagger are both out now, published in the UK and US by Orbit Books.