In Book 2 of the Nine Kingdoms, Neroche is still under siege by nightmarish creatures and Miach feels no closer to finding a worthy combatant against the unknown magic. Meanwhile Morgan is back on her home island of Melksham on a long road to recovery after nearly escaping death. Miach’s responsibilities as archmage keep him at Tor Neroche but not without his constant sensing of Morgan’s presence. However when she’s finally well enough to stand on her own two feet, Morgan flees to her second home, the mercenary keep Gobhann, in an attempt to run from her dark dreams and what they imply. Instead, Morgan finds herself running towards her problems when Miach arrives at Gobhann after losing track of her essence. What ensues will be a painful yet hopeful convalescence for Morgan and a difficult but rewarding testing period for Miach as he undergoes rigorous training and wrestles between what his heart wants and what his Kingdom needs.
Reaching the end of another Nine Kingdoms book, I find myself pleasantly surprised at the sheer enjoyment it was to read. The writing style is very readable, and the pacing is good. That Morgan and Miach are so well drawn, however, is the real strength of this series. The secondary characters come and go but both the leads remain perfectly emotionally conflicted; Miach between duty and love and Morgan between her former self and her new self. There were so many moments that I couldn’t help but grin. For example Morgan’s aversion to wooing and romance despite her feelings for Miach. Or her acerbic tongue, exceptional prowess with a sword, growing curiosity towards magic, her ability to be underestimated and the surprising and awesome runic bond she share’s with Miach at the ending. The fantasy in this installment – short humans as dwarves, beautiful humans as elves, and simple good v. evil magic – also remains easy to identify with. For someone who’d call herself neither fantasy expert nor novice, the subtle world-building is still very satisfying.
That said this is romantic fantasy and the focus, even more than in the first book, is on the romance. Since 1) This series is my first foray into the subgenre, 2) I’m a romantic at heart, and 3) I don’t read straight romances, I found it extremely refreshing in a guilty pleasure sort of way but without the guilt. On the other hand like eating chocolate until you’re sick I wouldn’t want to read it all the time. There’s little traveling or battling in the first half, and I did get a little stir-crazy for some action and major plot movement. The dialogue, sentimental glances and PDA between Miach and Morgan also began to feel a tad sappy. Similarly the ubiquitous burning eyes, sleeve-across-the-eye dragging, and flat out weeping done by both characters bordered on obsessive. I can understand how difficult it was for Morgan to discover that something she’s loathed her entire life is exactly what she turned out to be. I can also understand the seeming impossibility of being between a rock that is Miach’s mantle and hard place that is his feelings. That is precisely why I love them so much. But for crying out loud (no pun intended) is it physically possible to shed so many tears? They were crying mountains between them! But thankfully in the last half the fantasy plot finally moved forward and the conclusion was so chock-full of rewarding travels, swordfighting, spellcasting, and realistic romance it made up for the minor complaints I had about Miach and Morgan’s relationship. Further proof was how unashamedly and possessively I held and admired the third book, Princess of the Sword, before I could even start reading it. Just ask DH. I couldn’t keep the excited anticipation in.