THE CROWED SHADOWS
The follow up to one of my favourite debut novels from 2009, The Poison Throne – the first book in The Moorehawke Trilogy. The series is light fantasy, with a strong historical fiction feel – the action takes place in a medieval kingdom in an era very reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition. The world building in the series is quite economic, however, and The Poison Throne was a book that took place entirely within a single castle and its grounds. Its strength was the intense, claustrophobic drama that built up within the royal court as the young Wynter, or Lady Moorehawke, and her ailing father attempt to find out why their enlightened kingdom has fallen into superstitious tyranny in their five year absence.
The Crowded Shadows moves outside the castle and into the forests beyond as Wynter flees the court and its poisonous politics to follow her friend Prince Razi and his companion Christopher. They seek the rebel prince Alberon in the hope of preventing a civil war that will tear the kingdom apart. Fearing attack from the Loups-Garous, they take refuge with Christopher’s adopted people, the gypsy-like Merron. But even here Wynter doesn’t know who she can trust as she discovers the Merron are working for the same enemy she and her father have spent the last five years fighting in the North.
The books are character driven, with wonderful dialogue and great depth to each of their conflicting motivations, emotions and loyalties. Kiernan developed great tension and suspense in The Poison Throne so that you always felt something was about to happen. The action, when it did arrive was often breathtakingly powerful and always unpredictable. Fortunately she manages to keep this intensity going through The Crowded Shadows as well.
Like The Poison Throne, The Crowded Shadows is a book for older teens and adults, with less straight out action and more mature relationships. Wynter’s strong feelings for Christopher are another focus of the book but they are complicated by revelations about his past with the Merron people. We see more of the world and the other cultures within it in this book as well and much of the joy from reading The Crowded Shadows is in these cleverly written details.
My only qualm was that some of the answers to the questions raised in The Poison Throne were deliberately withheld from the reader (and Wynter) so that they could be revealed in the final book, but this is hard to avoid in the middle book of a trilogy. As the title suggests, there are enemies and secrets everywhere and they all seem to be gravitating towards Prince Alberon, hiding somewhere in the wilds. It is a perfect set up for a dramatic finale in The Rebel Prince and I for one can’t wait to get me hands on it.