Prisoner of Ironsea Tower: Book Two of The Tears
(Bantam Press, £10.99, 470 pages, trade paperback, published
The Prisoner of Ironsea Tower Sarah Ash continues the story of
Gavril Nagarian (an artist who unexpectedly inherits one of the Rossiyan
duchies and the demonic power that goes with it) and Eugene of Tielen
(who is determined to become Emperor of a reunited Rossiya). At the
end of Book 1, Gavril renounced the dragon demon that was source of
his power. With no one to stand against him, Eugene easily extends his
power over the remaining Rossiyan duchies and has Gavril imprisoned
in a notorious lunatic asylum (the Ironsea Tower of the title).
The story begins quite slowly, but after a couple of chapters the pace
begins to pick up. Apparently the creature that possessed Gavril was
not destroyed by the exorcism that cast it out. Instead it finds a new
host, incidentally saving the life and restoring the memory of Andrei
Orlov -- the heir of Muscobar (Tielen's great rival), thought dead in
a shipwreck during the war in the opening volume of the trilogy (Lord
of Snow and Shadows). What's more, there is more than one of these
creatures and in the course of this volume we learn a great deal more
about their history -- enough, perhaps, to begin to sympathize with
their plight. In spite of the title, Gavril does not long remain a prisoner.
Eugene's hold over his new Rossiyan Empire proves less secure than he
hoped at first, driving him to seek still greater power with the aid
of his court alchemist. By the end of the volume the Rossiyan Empire
is divided by civil war, two dragon demons are on the loose and a Francian
fleet is on its way to invade Rossiya.
The book may be strong on action but this has not weakened Ash's characterization.
As I pointed out in my review of Lord of Snow and Shadows, even
her minor characters feel like real people. With one possible exception,
there are no heroes or villains in this story -- the personalities and
motivations of her major characters are simply too complex for any of
them to be unremittingly good or evil. The exception appears to be Caspar
Linnaius, the Tielen court alchemist. Ash claims that there are no Dark
Lords in her fantasy trilogy and that may well be true, but he is certainly
a candidate for the role of Rasputin. His character is painted in unremittingly
dark tones -- scheming, manipulative, and quite lacking in moral restraint
when it comes to the use of his powers.
However, it has to be said that it is very much the second book of
a trilogy. It is inevitably dependent on Book 1. But whereas that volume
had a satisfying ending, in the sense that major plot issues were resolved,
this book ends on a cliffhanger with everything now dependent on the
concluding volume, Children of the Serpent Gate. I found much
to enjoy in this book, but I must admit I was irritated by its inconclusiveness
(particularly by comparison with Lord of Snow and Shadows) --
cliffhanger endings make me feel I am being manipulated into reading
the next volume. That irritation apart, I can thoroughly recommend this
to anyone who enjoyed Lord of Snow and Shadows.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: