Prince of Dogs
second volume in the Crown of Stars series
by Kate Elliot
(Orbit, £16.99, 576 pages, hardback, published 1998.)
Set in a very solid and carefully realised 10th century pseudo-Europe, Kate Elliot's Crown of Stars series shows an unusual degree of attention to historical detail and an even more unusual degree of skill in weaving the detail into the story.
Volume one, The King's Dragon, ended with its several protagonists in very mixed circumstances. Prince Sanglant was last seen chained to the throne of the Eika raider, Bloodheart, while lowly Alain, a merchant's foster-child had been accepted as the bastard son of Count Lavastine; as for Liath, a magically-gifted orphan once the abused slave of the (quite despicable) priest, Father Hugh, she had been accepted into The Eagles, King Henry's elite courier corps, and appeared momentarily safe from her varied mundane and mystical pursuers...
The second volume is a brisk development of earlier themes. As King Henry slowly cements his hold on recently rebellious Varre and plans to avenge himself on Bloodheart for Sanglant's (presumed) death, conspiracy blossoms in his court, centring on his brash elder daughter Sapienta who has fallen under the influence of Father Hugh. The lesser characters orbit about the royal family, chafing at the (very varied) bonds that hold them to fates they did not choose...
Elliot's depiction of a medieval world is distinguished by her clear understanding of just how little choice almost everyone in this society has, how they are given away, promised away, sold, bartered, consigned to a life in holy orders, or an unwanted marriage, or servitude, at the whim of their elders... But what really makes her work compelling is her willingness to put her characters into very nasty situations and let them twist there, victims to a sequence of genuinely credible villains. There are no caricature fantasy Dark Lords here, only very real, egotistical, selfish and self-centred people. Watching Father Hugh stalk Liath across the page is positively chilling at times; one ends up hoping the bastard burns, and I mean that as the sincerest possible compliment to the author.
This review was first published in the British Fantasy Society
newsletter, Prism, July/Aug 1999.
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© Simeon Shoul 19 May 2001