CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 30 . . . . April 5, 2013
Vying for the allegiance of a young and powerful king, the centuries-old war between Druids and Merlin's Immortals enters a new and terrifying phase in this second installment of Sigmund Brouwer's epic adventure fantasy series.
The battle for Magnus may be over and his kingdom may be at peace, but Thomas cannot shake the nagging suspicion that all is not well. With strange and unexplained occurrences happening all around him, Thomas sets out in search of answers. But before he can investigate, he is swept into a war he would rather not take part in but is, nonetheless, obligated to join in order to avoid the ire of the Earl of York. Remarkably, the mysterious happenings which plagued Thomas while in Magnus continue to haunt him as he marches north against the invading Scots. Fearing the worst, Thomas, with no one to trust, turns towards the ancient knowledge of his secret library to thwart the Druid conspiracy that threatens to deprive him of his kingdom and destiny as ruler of Magnus.
Readers unfamiliar with The Orphan King should find the transition to the second book of this series an easy one as the author appropriately provides introductions to relevant characters and events as needed. These introductions, while brief (woven subtly throughout the opening chapters) are also significant given the speed at which the story unfolds; importantly, however, they will not distract fans already keen to such information. While Brouwer's pacing of the story should be commended, after all it is wonderfully efficient and suspenseful, it is not without fault. Most notably, perhaps even more so than in The Orphan King, which had the benefit of Thomas' back story to slow things down a bit, plot takes precedence over character development much to the detriment of understanding the individual motivations, feelings, and intentions of characters. Likewise, the continuous parade of twists, which seemingly appear every third chapter, tend to lose their intended effect on the reader. This is especially true by the time the book's final climax is reached. While entertaining and clever, it reads somewhat flat in comparison to the conclusion offered up in book one.
With Fortress of Mist, readers are treated to a slightly expanded cast of characters, although fans of the first book will perhaps be saddened to learn of the exit of William, the valiant knight who befriended Thomas and performed all of the heavy lifting. Among the new additions, The Earl of York, whose dark and secretive past will likely prove to play an important part in the story moving forward, is most exceptional, a perfect mix of hubris and foolhardiness. Thomas, of course, remains the focus of the series. While he still is very much the ambitious, intrepid, and intelligent young man of The Orphan King, he has matured astoundingly. Since ascending the throne, Thomas, both burdened and driven by his obligations to himself as well as to those in his kingdom, behaves and thinks like a man wise well beyond his years. Not to worry, this does not mean Thomas is less accessible or unrelatable to young adult readers; he suffers, dreams, and desires all the same. The opposite is, in fact, true as he comes across as more endearing, someone to whom readers can look up to and perhaps even aspire to be like.
Fans of the first novel will likely find Fortress of Mist to be an equally enjoyable read; each book is well written and conceived, complementing each other not only in style and tone, but also in themes explored. It should, however, be noted that Brouwer continues to delve into issues of faith and religion throughout. While Thomas has yet to be converted, he is seen taking up the Cross (literally, it is big and white) as part of a trial by ordeal he must complete to prove his innocence and safeguard his kingdom. The inclusion of a romantic subplot between Thomas and Katherine, the young disfigured woman who assisted Thomas in capturing Magnus, may also make this selection slightly more appealing with female audiences than otherwise expected. However, like The Orphan King, it will do best with adventure fantasy fans looking for a quick yet entertaining read.
Andrew Laudicina, a MLIS graduate from the University of Western Ontario in London, ON, currently resides in Windsor, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.