Pamela Freeman

Castings Trilogy, Book 3

Orbit (2009)

ISBN: 978-031603562

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack, June 2010

As the title suggests, this novel is the climax of the Castings trilogy, which began with Blood Ties and continued in Deep Water.   Although I found Blood Ties enjoyable, it wasn’t until Deep Water that Freeman really engaged me – but she left me eager then to find out what happens in Full Circle. It was worth the wait. Freeman has written a novel which is strong and powerful, and which makes the trilogy as a unit an extremely powerful and moving story.

Freeman continues to focus on three main characters – Ash, Bramble and Saker. All are descendants of the dark complexioned Travellers, who were displaced from the land centuries earlier when the warlord Acton invaded.  Now, despised by the fair descendants of Acton and his people, the Travellers live where and when they can, and endure discrimination which is rooted deeply in their land.  Ash, Bramble and Saker have all found different ways to deal with this.

Saker’s approach is the most vicious, and is changing the face of the land and society.  He has found a way to use the bones of his people to raise a ghostly army to slaughter the invaders, and is spreading terror across the land.  But it isn’t as simple as he thought.  After centuries, you can’t always tell a Traveller from one of Acton’s descendants just by looking at them.  And wholesale slaughter isn’t always as much fun as he thought it would be, either.  Nor are Acton’s descendants just sitting still for the slaughter – the warlord Thegan is ruthlessly using Saker’s army as a way to consolidate his ambitions to be overall ruler, and trampling the Travellers as he does it.  Perhaps most horribly, the ghosts don’t seem to be as much under Saker’s control as he thought.

In Deep Water Bramble had agreed to risk her life on a mystical quest to find out what really happened in the past.  She finds out, and of course it’s not quite as simple as anyone might have had it.  In the course of the quest, Bramble also finds herself the impossible love she didn’t believe in.  Setting this aside, she combines her strength with that of Ash. Ash spent much of Deep Water learning vital secrets of Traveller magic which his family had previously kept from him. Now he and Bramble combine their new knowledge to raise Acton’s ghost and head to a showdown with Saker and Thegan.

One of the challenges for the reader throughout this trilogy has been anticipating how it’s going to work out.  Blood Ties left the overall story arc somewhat mysterious; Deep Water made it clearer, but built such complexities it was hard to see how Freeman would resolve them. It’s to her credit that Full Circle resolves the story in a way that does justice to all those complexities, is credible, and still was difficult to see until the very moment the resolution is upon the reader.

Although it is Saker’s actions which set the story in motion, and provide the underlying impetus for the plot, it’s Bramble and Ash whose actions carry the story forward. Without them, this would essentially have been a novel about lots of slaughter.  Bramble and Ash are also the most sympathetic characters; although Freeman draws many other characters, strong and complex and often easy to empathise with, it’s Bramble and Ash you care most about. To some extent this is because they have been a strong focus of the trilogy and so we’ve learnt a lot about them, and shared many of their trials.  It’s also because Freeman makes their emotional and ethical dilemmas achingly real.

It would be difficult to read this novel without having read the first two.  As with Deep Water, Freeman plunges straight back into the story where she left it, with little recap and not many clues for the new reader.  I don’t have a problem with this; the trilogy tells one overarching story, and is meant to be read as a whole.  Each novel makes it clear that it is part of a trilogy – Freeman and the publishers have played fair with readers.  These three novels often give the impression that they could very well be one enormous novel, but have been split for convenience.  It makes for a particularly satisfying experience when you finish Full Circle – you’ve just read a complex, deeply plotted novel with engaging and convincing characters, which happens to have been published in three volumes.

Full Circle is an outstanding novel when read as part of a trilogy.  It would suffer quite a lot if you tried to read it as a standalone novel.  This is a mature and accomplished work from an Australian writer who has previously focused on writing for children; I hope she’ll be writing more novels aimed at an older audience.  It avoids the clichés of the fantasy genre, and instead provides a novel which rests on a strong plot, powerful emotional story, and engaging characters.  I found little to criticise in this novel and a great deal to enjoy.