The first volume of this series saw Timothy, once a gawky young man, emerge as an elite fighter known as a Thane. Skilled in espionage and combat, Thanes form a select group pitted against the ruthless Huctans, who rule the land of Botan. Resenting the Huctans isn’t uncommon for men of Timothy’s ilk, though fighting the formidable foes can be a complicated matter. This book finds the Huctans still in control, although there’s potential to deal them a devastating blow. Seeking to raise an army of Botani people, whom the Huctans have enslaved, Thane fighters Nick and Robert devise a risky plan that could end badly. Meanwhile, Timothy is himself enslaved and forced to participate in gladiatorial events. He’s pitted against better fighters, so any contest could be his last—or his ticket to freedom. The narrative follows these men and others—a young princess named Haitetaka also gets involved—as they traverse the harsh world of shifting allegiances and brutal repression. The story is a largely physical one, complete with flying arrows, piercing swords, and a good deal of suffering: “Robert bucked harder, oblivious to the blows the dismounted soldier was now raining down on him, thrashing in the coat like a newly caught fish on the bank of a brook.” Dialogue, however, can be slow and often tends toward blunt remarks. Robert’s captors, for instance, speak like stilted extras in a B-movie: “I do not care who your prisoner is, Ricera. If you do not control him, I will have him flogged to death.” Nevertheless, with twists, betrayals, and new possibilities always around the corner, those taken with the initial pages will be well-rewarded for following through.
Genre fans unperturbed by some sluggish moments will enjoy the brisk, daring, and complicated adventure.