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BARD'S OATH by Joanne Bertin

BARD'S OATH

By Joanne Bertin

Pub Date: Nov. 27th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-312-87370-7
Publisher: Tor

The long-awaited follow-up to The Last Dragonlord (1998) and Dragon and Phoenix (1999) does not, actually, have very much to do with dragons or Dragonlords until the climax.

Folk of all sorts—lords, peasants, merchants, nobles and Dragonlords—are gathered for the famous Balyaranna Horse Fair. One attendee is haughty, angry Master Bard Leet, whose beloved kinsman Arnath died when sociopathic Lord Tirael thrust the boy onto the vicious stallion Summer Lightning. Determined to revenge himself on the horse and the lord, and as a bonus, hurt his erstwhile rival in love, Bard Otter, Leet uses an evil-haunted harp to enchant a boy into poisoning the horse and Otter’s beloved great-nephew Raven into murdering Tirael. Can Raven’s childhood friend Maurynna and her fellow Dragonlords uncover the true perpetrator before the apparently guilty suffer for their crimes? Bertin spends most of the book ratcheting up the tension, dotting it with threatening little incidents, before anything of note actually occurs. Ultimately, the plot structure resembles a magical cross between Columbo and Law & Order: We know from the outset who the perpetrator is; we’re just waiting for Our Heroes to find him and prove his guilt during some extremely dramatic courtroom scenes. While minor characters are slightly more well-rounded, the two villains are almost cartoonishly bad people. Readers will rejoice at evil Tirael’s (admittedly creepy) death, but it’s too bad that Bertin won’t allow readers to sympathize with Leet, a man who feels he’s lost everything he ever valued and is driven to drastic measures to heal his pain. But Leet’s cruel, bigoted, selfish and just all-around unpleasant; there’s simply nothing redeeming about him.

A little more moral nuance and even pacing would have enhanced this otherwise welcome return to epic fantasy.