I was chomping at the bit for Leaves of Flame by Benjamin Tate to show up in the mail since it’s the sequel to the newly Shelf of Honorized Well of Sorrows. It was the only book of the last Amazon batch that wasn’t damaged in the mail and I’ve been devouring it between feeding the infant.
No mucking about today. Back of the book time!
One hundred years have passed since Colin Harten – transformed to something more than human by the magic of the Lifeblood contained in the Well of Sorrows – used his new powers to broker a peace agreement between the human, dwarren, and Alvritshai races of Wrath Suvane. Since then all three races have greatly expanded their empires. And Colin has continuously sought ways to defeat the dark spirits known as the sukrael – and the Wraiths they have created to act for them in the physical world. Yet Colin has not been able to prevent the dark spirits from reawakening more and more Wells, thus extending their power across the lands.
Having mastered three of the five magics of Wrath Suvane, Colin has gifted each race with a magical Tree to protect them from incursions of the dark forces. He has also realized that unless a certain number of Wells are left open, their magic can never be stabilized, and the land will be torn apart by this uncontrolled force.
But now the enemy has located the one Well that is key to controlling the entire network, and if Colin can’t find a means to stop them from claiming and activating this Well, it could mean the end of all three races…
So starting off, I tend to have this thing with sequels where I go “Oh yay! Book two!” and never actually read the back of the book. Typing it out here was actually the first I read it and while I don’t think that the Back of the Book for Leaves misses some of the big selling points as much as with Well, I think there is some underselling going on here again. Now I figure that condensing a whole book down to three paragraphs has got to be a pain, otherwise I could be doing that rather than building submarines, but it seems that with Leaves it’s playing up the more traditional fantasy aspects of it. Colin is on a race to save the world! Ok that’s fantasy, but remember what I said about Wells. Thriller. That race to save the world isn’t some sort of old school D&D standard party. Leaves has more of the political wrangling (seriously, not exactly easy to make that interesting), backstabbing and conniving that the first book. The intrigue among the Alvritshai in particular take it to this to a cold war level I enjoyed the hell out of.
Speaking of the Alvritshai, we get to see a lot more of them and their culture in Leaves than we did in Well. Some of that background world building gets to come to the forefront here. Colin and a cadre of Alvritshai head to the northern wastes. There’s some mini ice age stuff going on in Wrath Suvane and the old cities of the Alvritshai are buried under glacial snow. Tate shows us the inner workings of an Alvritshai House and the shaman-chieftan relationship among the dwarren. Some of the world building set up in the first book continues along here as a set up for the finale. A lot of the “I want to know more about this” from Wells is expanded upon here to the greatest satisfaction. So this top tier world building went and build another, taller tier and set up camp there.
World building isn’t the end all and be all. That’s how you make a Dungeons and Dragons source book, not a novel. We’ve got our thriller plot and epic setting, we need the soul of the book now. Colin seems more realistically flawed here than he did in the first book. I think it is a reflection of the character’s evolution over the hundred year gap between the books. He loses touch with the world. Mistakes are made but he does what he feels is best at the time. That’s a common thing with the characters here and I’m glad. All too often, characters do what the book things they should do rather than what they feel is best. Some of the forces opposing Colin aren’t doing it out of anything evil or malignant, it’s what they feel is best.
In particular, my new favorite character is Siobhaen. She’s part of the religious Order of the Flame and gets stuck in one of the bigger moral quandaries of the book. She ends up rolling with Colin and kicking ass along the way. I know this is Colin’s story first and foremost but I’d read a whole book from Siobhaen.
Siobhaen isn’t the only new face we get in Leaves. We get chapters that follow the point of view of a dwarren shaman, a human leuitenant on the fringes of explored lands and a lot more focus with the Chosen of the Alvritshai. I’m calling this a neutral thing. The larger cast is well handled but there are some chapters that pull you away from a point of view you really don’t want to leave. A big cast like that can be a double edged sword sometimes although I think it is a well wielded sword here.
My only real drawback is Leaves has a bit of the Book Two Problem you can see coming from a long ways away. It’s the sort of thing that happens in trilogies of any medium. Hell, it’s even in Star Wars. The first installment has a self contained story arc but book two resolves bits and pieces while saving much for the third. It’s a complete non-issue when book three is sitting on the shelf ready to go, but Tate is still writing it. So this is less of a complaint and more of a “Keep going strong ’cause I’m all impatient!”
So go read the first book and then have at it with this one. This is an author to support so we can keep getting books like this for years to come. Hell, this is an author I wish was a Rhode Islander so I could talk shop over Wrath Suvane maps.