A turbid, relentlessly grim return to the pseudo-Welsh fantasy world of Illumination (2001) introduces even more gruesome complexities to a densely layered story. Until the magewar that at the end of Illumination, magic, or magecraft, was practiced on the man-shaped island of Eiden Myr in balanced groups of three: a wordsmith wrote the spell; an illuminator recited it; and a binder gathered the magical forces together. Now, six years later, the island is a wretched, unbalanced mess. The Ennead, a corrupt, ruling group of nine tremendously powerful magicians who were so accomplished that they could even subdue the weather, have been brutally overthrown, and their nightmarish, subterranean monastery has become a warren of mutilated former adepts, servants, and lost souls living and dead. Elsewhere on the island, mysterious plagues appear without warning: the poor, mostly illiterate inhabitants are menaced by creeping rot, sudden insect infestations, and a horrid illness that causes them to melt rapidly into dark puddles of slime. McGarry hops all over the island, focusing on the discovery of an eerie codex and the troublesome psychic abilities of younger characters—one of whom inexplicably sees, and then babbles the names of, dead people. But it isn’t until some 150 overwrought pages that the basic plot is introduced: some of the Ennead have survived, and one of them, Lerissa, has made a pack with the Streln, leader of the Khine, a bunch of nasty sea warriors who want to conquer the island. The proud woman warrior Verlein has been fated to kill Lerissa, and so she must set forth across a land where magical and natural forces are in dramatic disarray.
McGarry labors harder than before to show how destiny, character, and the island’s magic-infused ecology are all part of a vast process of spiritual empowerment. But the attempt is lost in a cluttered narrative with too many intricacies that fail to cohere.