“After all these years, I am still involved in the process of self-discovery. It's better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe. Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.” -Sophia Loren
Book 3 of Greg Keyes' Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series and, for me, the seams are starting to show. Toward the end of Book 2, I began to feel as if characters were treading the same paths they had already been along, both thematically and geographically. I couldn't really tell where Aspar and Winna were but I was certain they'd been there before. The same goes for Stephen and Leoff, both of whom find themselves in the same position they were in a previous book: walking a Faneway or composing a piece of music, the intent of which, is the opposite its patron intends. Anne and Austra spent much of Book 2 far from home, but now they are back, along with Cazio and Neil, who have returned to their tasks, obedient as lap dogs.
Still I wait for something urgent, something daring to happen in this series. The antagonists keep unfolding and unravelling, turning out to be not so very bad after all, in fact, the real enemy are these other things over here. And the focus changes. I've not felt for a moment that any of the principal characters were in danger of being killed; injured, sure; perhaps morally inconvenienced, but dead? No. And I think that's a problem for an author who is trying to generate tension and interest and sustain it across a four book series. Mr. Keyes has some vital and engaging characters but he never really lets them loose: Cazio is one of the few with a genuine spark of wit and danger but, by the end of the third book, even he is reduced to a kind of parody of his earlier actions.
It's all very nice - the battle scenes are just technical enough to be convincing, the world building just rich enough to grow a layer of authenticity (if a little white washed), and the characters have enough individuality to tell them apart - but it's just too safe. These books are never going to offend anyone. The story never comes snarling and sneering and snapping off the page. The characters never do anything truly shocking or audacious. The author never reaches for something more than a simple tale, simply told.