This Rough Magic by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, and Dave Freer
Synopsis from GoodReads:
Venice had been thrown into chaos by the scheming of Chernobog, who came within a hair of seizing absolute power, but was thwarted by the guardian Lion-spirit, who awoke to protect his city from the power-mad demon. But the power of the Lion does not extend beyond Venice, and Chernobog has a new ally in the King of Hungary, who has laid siege to the island of Corfu as the first step in his plan to seize control of the Adriatic from Venice. Trapped on the island is the small band of heroes who awoke the Lion and blocked Chernobog’s power grab before. They are far from the Lion’s power to help them, but as Manfred and Erik lead a guerrilla movement to fight the Hungarian invaders, Maria discovers that the ancient magical powers of the island are coming to life again, stirred by the siege. If she can make an alliance with them, she may be able to repel the invaders-but not without paying a bitter personal price. . . .
I really liked the first book in this series, The Shadow of the Lion. I thought it did a great job with characters, pacing, and so on. So this book was kind of a letdown for me in some fairly big ways.
First off, this book felt a lot more disjointed. Part of that might be because we were following more characters who were spread out over a larger geographical area and part of that might be because there were several distinct ‘main’ plots. For being such a large book (my edition is just shy of 900 pages), there’s both too much going on and not enough. We jump or gloss over things that seem important, but everything included also felt necessary.
Secondly, the emotional pay-off in this book was distinctly lacking. I read the last thirty or so pages – which contained the emotional climax, supposedly – with an air of boredom combined with ‘I’ve seen this before only done better’. That’s not what you want to feel when reading what’s supposed to be the big emotional moment of the book.
Thirdly, a lot of the book got over-foreshadowed. By which I mean, I knew exactly where it was going, what was coming, etc. There were, in general, very few surprises.
Fourth, the characters. Some people got a lot of development – Benito, Maria, and Erik – while others continued steadily on their trajectory from book one – Manfred, Lopez, and Francesca, in as much as she gets a trajectory – and still others were described as having character growth but it wasn’t shown. Part of that might be because of how many characters were in the book, how many scenes were included, or the length, but I would have liked to see Giuliano Lozza’s growth instead of having it narrated to me, for example. And, too, some of Benito’s character development didn’t always make the most sense and seemed to be at least a little bit plot-driven (especially for that emotional climax mentioned above). Also, if you’re looking for complex villains, this is not the book for you.
On the other hand, I have to give the authors credit for being very accurate about sieges, insofar as I understand them, at least. The length of time, the concerns about food/water/treachery, the day-to-day issues… The siege always felt real to me, as did the consequences of the war and the fighting.
I can’t say This Rough Magic bored me, but I also can’t say I was particularly enthralled. It was a long slog through this book, compared to the rapid page-turning of the first one. 3 stars, with the hope that book 3 will be better.
*This book counts towards the 1500-1599 slot for my When Are You Reading? Challenge.