Celine Kiernan

Moorehawke Trilogy, Book 2

Allen and Unwin

ISBN: 978-1-74175-870-2

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack, August 2010

As The Crowded Shadows opens, Wynter Moorehawke is travelling in the woods, trying hard not to be seen by several bands of horsemen.  She’s seeking the Rebel Prince, Alberon, but isn’t sure what she’ll find – whether he will be her friend or foe. And so she doesn’t particularly want to be seen by anyone else along the way, even – or especially – if their gossip suggests they know more about the situation than she does.

The novel throws you straight into the action, and you quickly become engaged with Wynter and her quest. If you haven’t read volume one of the trilogy, it will take you a while to work out exactly what’s going on here in volume two, but it is possible. Actually, a few things will probably remain shadowy throughout the novel, but that’s not too important. The major plot becomes clear enough, and you’ll care about what happens.

Wynter hopes that by finding Alberon, she can prove that he never planned to usurp his father’s throne, and heal the rift between them. If she succeeds, she’d probably prevent civil war; but she’ll also enable several of the young men she grew up with to become friends again, and save them from having to make bitter choices.  Some of the politics did remain a little unclear to me – I had the sense they were probably better explained in volume one, where the scene was set. However, the strong relationships between characters got me thoroughly involved in what was going on, and kept me interested for the entire novel.  I was really hoping that it would turn out that childhood friends wouldn’t have to face each other sword to sword.

As noted above, this is volume two of a trilogy. I haven’t read volume one (The Poison Throne), but it was possible to follow and enjoy this volume without having read the first. In fact, this one was good enough to make me want to find and read volume
one, and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for volume three.

Wynter was a particularly interesting character. Although she can hold her own with the men, Kiernan doesn’t shy away from the fact that she is a young woman, and that has a physical impact on her.  It makes her attractive as a target; it means she must rely more on skills that keep her out of fights than on fighting skills; and things such as menstruation can have a big impact on her when living rough. These are realities that some writers gloss over, but Kiernan uses them to help make Wynter a real, and vulnerable, character that we can recognise. She’s skilled, determined, and brave; but she isn’t superhuman either.

There’s no doubt that it was Wynter who got me interested and kept me reading. None of the other characters connected with me as strongly. This was in part because Kiernan frequently adopts Wynter’s point of view, and in part because the first novel appears to have introduced many relationships which were just assumed in this novel. However, it’s also in part because Wynter seems the most human of any of these characters. Her trials and weaknesses are so often flaws that the reader can relate to; other major characters, such as her male friends Razi and Christopher, have weaknesses that arise from experiences that many
readers will find it harder to relate to.

I found the world the novel is set in a little hard to grasp. This may well be because I haven’t read the first novel; I obviously don’t know. But I couldn’t quite grasp whether this was intended as some sort of alternate history, or just set in a land where the religions bore a strong resemblance to ours.  Nor was the geography entirely clear to me, which mattered a bit because several characters would have traveled exceptionally widely if the geography resembled our world, yet I didn’t have a sense that the timeframes really matched that proposition.  In the end I pretty much let these aspects of the novel just go past me; it didn’t impact on my enjoyment of the story telling, although it did leave me feeling that I was missing something.

Although The Crowded Shadows is a novel with many strengths, and I found a lot of enjoyment in it, in the end I probably wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ve read the first in the trilogy. It seems clearly a trilogy intended to be read as one entity – the novel doesn’t seem self contained – and reading only volume two left me feeling I was missing a great deal.  I suspect that reading this as it is intended to be read – as part of that trilogy – would change a rather good novel into one with real depth and power. It would be a shame to miss out on that possibility.