Book 2 of the Magister Trilogy
Published by DAW
The lone female Magister, Kamala, returns in the second book of C.S. Friedman’s engaging Magister Trilogy. This novel picks directly after the events of Feast of Souls, the first installment of the trilogy, with Kamala hiding who she is while on the run from Magisters who wish to see her punished for the events which occurred in Feast of Souls. Other repercussions must be balanced in this novel, for the King Danton died and his son, Salvator ascends the throne. Though he ascends as his duty, he never planned for the role – he spent many years studying to become a monk. Danton also left a widow, Gwynofar, who holds the throne for Salvator before his ascension a role which has seen her prominence in the kingdome rise.
Souleaters, the feared creatures of myth first glimpsed in the first book are making a concerted effort at returning, which as made less difficult because the Wrath is weakening. The Wrath, of course, is the magical barrier that has protected the lands of man from the souleating monsters. In the northern lands, where the Wrath resides, a group of legendary stones, the Spires, are said to be a key component of these age old safeguards. The Guardians of the Wrath dispatch one of their own, Rhys, own to investigate the source of the weakening Wrath. Rhys also happens to be Gwynofar’s half brother. Other characters include the Witch-queen Siderea and a young man who lives beyond the Wrath and wishes to bond with and ride a Souleater.
The early stages of the novel read very much like a quest/mystery hybrid and Friedman keeps the tension at a high level throughout. I found Wings of Wrath to be a more sensual novel than its predecessor – with slighter emphasis on emotion and sexuality. Although these elements were present in the first volume, Kamala’s sensuality comes across as more enticing and more empowering to her. She still seems to be a bit out of sorts in terms of where she feels she might fit in the world, but here in Wings of Wrath, I get the sense she is more willing to accept what comes her way, and to use what she has at her disposal to overcome obstacles in front of her.
One of the things that stood out to me in this volume (and a trend I’m noticing in a lot of the stronger fantasy writers such as C.S. Friedman) is that this second book doesn’t simply tread ground and hold things at a status quo for the eventual final volume. Certain plot elements gain closure, while others continue to set up for an eventual clash that I for one hope to see occur in the final volume.
An element I’ve enjoyed in all of Ms. Friedman’s novels is her ability to give weight to both sides of a conflict. In Feast of Souls, the Souleaters were monsters out of legend associated with only death and destruction. Here in Wings of Wrath, more background is given to these creatures and their history, which gives the beginning hints of a rational perspective to their existence. A Great Secret may lie at the heart of what they are (perhaps not unlike the world of Erna in her Coldfire Trilogy) but the hints of such a secret may just be teases of What Could Be rather than What Is.
Another strong aspect of the novel is how much of accepted faith is challenged throughout. Kamala as a female Magister (something historically forbidden) is perhaps the best example of this, but faith in the Gods of the world is also challenged. As a Guardian of the Wrath, Rhys has always accepted the role Gods play in setting the world as it is. Events occur which utterly shake his foundation in this faith. At times, he questions himself, but also struggles with whether or not he should share the knowledge which led to this crumble in his foundation of faith with others.
While this second volume isn’t plotted quite as tightly as Feast of Souls, Friedman still manages to keep the dramatic tension quite high throughout. The best scenes involve Kamala, for she is an enigma and something that really shouldn’t exist according to the history of the world in the novels. Characters who were hinted at or seemed only placeholders, in a very welcome move, come more into play in this volume and the society of the Magisters shifts a bit into the background.
Wings of Wrath is an excellent second volume of a trilogy, and a solid work in its own right. It is an emotionally charged, sensual, and thought-provoking novel and despite some minor issues I had with the pacing/plotting, I think Friedman has is on the way to another standout trilogy.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford