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by Jo Walton

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-765-30263-2
Publisher: Tor

Third in the Tir Tanagiri series (The King’s Peace, 2000; The King’s Name, 2001), set on a mythical island kingdom where Arthurian characters are renamed in Welsh. A fresh set of lead characters shows up here, though materials for this outing are drawn from Chapter 12 of The King’s Peace. Previously, the Christian Vincan (Romans) depart Tir Tanagiri, leaving the way open for invasion by the Jarns (Vikings). At last King Urdo (Arthur) drives out the Jarns, though many remain, and visionary Urdo tries to bring peace to the land by uniting all its peoples under the rule of one law, though he is at last defeated on the battlefield by the magic of his evil sister’s bastard son Morthu (Modred). But much of all that takes place in the future of the present novel’s time scheme. In Ardmachan, young princes Conal, Darag, and Ferdia, along with princess Emer, are destined for royal thrones, but when their countries fall into disarray, the love between Conal, 17, and 16-year-old Emer from Tir Isarnagiri is strained, especially because Emer is supposed to marry Darag, whom she hates. However, Conal’s grandfather, the seer Inis, says that while Emer may not marry Darag in one world, she may in another. Maga, the king/queen of Tir Isarnagiri and mother of Emer and her older sister Elenn, is set on war against Ardmachan. For several chapters, Walton shows the warrior youths in training and weaves a cat’s-cradle of morganatic marriages in the making. When Conal and Emer fall in love—though they’re from rival lands and Emer is promised to another—should they elope? Can love survive the strain of rival homelands at war? Will Emer’s love for Conal make her a traitor? Conal, it happens, must also overcome Ferdia for High Kingship.

A bitter climax splits the tale wide open for a sequel. Best installment yet.