Second installment of a fantasy series (Unwrapped Sky, 2014) about a slow-motion rebellion overtaking an ancient, decaying city in thrall to body- and brain-warping magic.
Having overthrown the ruling Houses and their scientist-magician thaumaturgists, the revolutionaries, or seditionists, now rule Caeli-Amur. But mercantile and supply systems collapsed along with the Houses, and the city is starving. Three independent narrative threads sustain the plot. Kata, philosopher-assassin, seditionist, and (her guilty secret) former spy for the Houses, finds the moderate seditionist leader Aceline murdered by means of foul magic. With her friend Dexion the minotaur—his function is largely decorative—she learns that the murderer apparently sought a magical book, the key to controlling the fabled magical Prism of Alerion. But then again, the seditionist vigilants, who advocate violence and mass executions and may be challenging the moderates for control of the revolt, possibly had a more convincing motive. Either way, regarded as conspiracy, this segment coheres far too laboriously; if a murder mystery, it just plain fails. Elsewhere, and far more compelling, ambitious former House official Armand, who appropriated the Prism amid the confusion, takes it to Varenis, a powerful rival city whose overlords watch developments in Caeli-Amur with great interest. But where Armand hopes to find allies, he finds treachery instead. And seditionist Max, in search of ancient thaumaturgical secrets, instead acquired an unwelcome lodger in his brain. Aya, a godlike thaumaturgist dead a thousand years, who can work magic without being warped by it, challenges Max for control of his body. While there’s no doubting the quality of the imagination on display here, the plotting is as uncomfortably uneven as the pacing. And the characters seem to take geological ages to come into focus; yet, eventually, they do.
Still too verbose but a decided improvement on its dazzling yet chilly predecessor.