Nicole Murphy

Dream of Asarlai, Book 2

HarperVoyager

ISBN: 9780732 291624

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Power Unbound is the second novel in the Dream of Asarlai trilogy. Like Book 1, Power Unbound is a pleasant read that engages the reader and keeps you interested for the length of the novel, without necessarily being compelling.

The trilogy follows several members of a secret race known as the gadda. Magic users, some live among humans and many choose to live a more isolated life. All are required to keep their existence a secret from humans, and a sort of ruling council – the Guardians – help to keep the secret and keep the gadda in line.

In Secret Ones, the first novel, Maggie Shaunessy found the love of her life in Lucas Valeroso, and was elevated to the ranks of the Guardians at a time of crisis. The Forbidden Texts have been stolen and dreadful things are happening as a direct consequence. Power Unbound focuses more on Maggie’s best friend Ione Gorton. A widow with a small child, Ione has stayed well away from romantic entanglements, fearing that it wouldn’t be good for her son. Quick flings are fine, but a more lasting relationship will have to wait until Jack is older. But then Ione meets Stephen O’Malley. He urgently needs a place to stay while preparing to sit the sixth-order test to be allowed to use his powerful magic at a higher level. Ione is happy to offer help, but is unsettled when her reaction to Stephen suggests he might be far more than a casual fling.

Normally Ione might turn to Maggie for some girl talk, but that’s a bit hard right now. Maggie is chasing around all over the place dealing with one crisis after another as a result of the theft of the Forbidden Texts. And Stephen might well have the key to identifying the thief.

Power Unbound is a touch predictable in places. You won’t have much trouble guessing what’s going to happen between Stephen and Ione. I’ll avoid mentioning other examples for fear of too many spoilers; but there were several other smaller plot points that I felt were signaled very clearly well in advance. I’m not sure how much this will matter to most readers; this is a light novel with a relatively straightforward plot anyway, and is unlikely to appeal to a reader looking only for a twisty unexpected plot.

Murphy has an easygoing prose style that quickly engages readers and makes it very easy to keep reading the novel. It was quite easy to get absorbed and read for longer than intended. The dialogue is realistic and the characterisations vivid.

My only reservations about this novel are small issues, largely around Ione’s relationship with her brother and around some of his past activities. Mark has a history with Stephen, and when Ione becomes involved with him Mark goes off the deep end. I had some difficulty finding this entirely credible; Ione appeared to have had a decent relationship with her brother in the past, but within pages he becomes downright vicious towards her, purely because he believes she has slept with Stephen, a man Mark once wronged. It seems over the top. In addition, when Stephen reveals information to one of the Guardians which leads to Mark and two friends being put on trial, Mark’s reaction again doesn’t ring true. The Guardian in question immediately shoots off to arrest one of the three, and so presumably – although we aren’t told – he also arrests Mark. Yet Mark doesn’t include this dreadful betrayal in his next rant to Ione? He doesn’t even mention it, even though he’s willing to imply Stephen might have been involved with a terrorist attack, with no evidence? In reviewing Secret Ones I mentioned that I had a little difficulty believing the unquestioning acceptance most gadda seem to have of the rules which govern their lives, especially younger people. I ran into this belief problem again here. Stephen is a powerful magic user, well capable of operating at sixth order. But he fails a test on a technicality and so he isn’t allowed to use his power at that level – for example, he can teleport but mustn’t; he must either use human transport or wait quietly till a sixth order gadda can come and teleport him. I’m not convinced that highly trained, capable, powerful magic users would really accept that kind of limitation for long. At the very least, I’d think quite a few would be sneaking around using their power when they think they won’t get caught – especially teenagers.

These sorts of problems won’t impact on most readers’ enjoyment of the novel, however. Although it is in part a continuing story, there’s enough background given that new readers will have no trouble following that plot element, and the romance between Ione and Stephen is self-contained. The challenge to find the Forbidden Texts is interesting and Murphy keeps the action moving fast enough to ensure readers are swept along with it. As noted, I didn’t entirely believe Ione’s relationship with her brother. However, other relationships in the novel – romantic, friendly, family – all seemed genuine and were well portrayed. This is one of the strengths of Murphy’s writing – she depicts relationships in a way that lets the reader feel they’re watching something real, and which helps deepen her characterisations. Readers of Secret Ones will want to read this, both to see another well portrayed love story and to follow the quest to find and recover the Forbidden Texts. Power Unbound is also very accessible to new readers, and will be enjoyed by people looking for a light and pleasant read with vivid relationships and an interesting plot.