Elizabeth Moon

Paladin’s Legacy, Volume 2

Orbit (2011 )

ISBN: 978-1-84149-768-6

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

It’s worth saying right up front that I think Elizabeth Moon is a fine writer, and I’ve enjoyed much of her previous work, because I struggled to fully appreciate or enjoy Kings of the North. I believe a large part of my difficulty was because I had not read the first book in the series (Oath of Fealty), or indeed the trilogy (The Deed of Paksenarrion) to which this series overall seems to be a sequel. As a consequence, I’d cautiously recommend this novel – but only to those who have read the earlier volumes. This one struggles to stand alone.

Kings of the North opens part way through the story, and has little in the way of recapping for those who haven’t read the earlier volumes. King Kieri appears to be fairly recently come to power, and it appears there’s been both violence and political scheming to put him on his throne. In this novel he’s struggling to stabilise his rule and his country, but is facing a lot of challenges. Elves and humans do not play well together, but Kieri needs to reconcile them to being not just allies but people who truly support each other. Dark mages are lurking around, still plotting to gain power at the expense of Kieri and other rulers. And although some of the Kings of the North are Kieri’s allies, others are implacably opposed to him.

It’s an interesting plot, but it was difficult to make full sense of it without knowing what had happened earlier. It was really tricky to develop a sense of the political landscape that Kieri has to deal with, and to be clear who was who. The political aspects were very important to the novel, and although there’s some exciting and well drawn action, it doesn’t fully make sense without the political context.

One of the difficulties I had with the novel is that although the characters are strong and interesting, I didn’t know much about how they’d reached this point. There are sufficient references to earlier events for me to suspect that many of these characters had changed quite a bit during the course of the series, but I had no strong sense of it. The result is that although I was interested in a lot of these characters, I found it hard to connect emotionally to many of their dilemmas, or indeed to them. For example, there are references to Kieri’s wife and children, and their deaths. These glancing references aren’t enough for me to build a strong picture of his relationship with them, the circumstances of their deaths, or the impact on him. And as a result, it was hard for me to get really involved with his search in this volume for another woman he could love and marry.

Similarly, many of the relationships in the novel weren’t strongly drawn, largely again because it felt as though something was missing. In particular, I seem to have missed the part of the story in which Kieri and others develop relationships in their formative years – a part which would no doubt tell me more about the individuals as well as their relationships. However, without that background many of the relationships seem rather shallow and as though everyone’s pretending a sort of jolly friendliness without real knowledge of each other.

In the end, Kings of the North was a disappointing novel for me, but it does seem to largely have been a function of coming in part way through the story. There’s a complex and layered plot which wasn’t entirely easy to follow without the earlier instalments, and a large cast of interesting characters who Moon assumes we already know. There’s enough strength to this novel for me to cautiously suggest the series is worth reading, although I haven’t have that opportunity yet. I would strongly suggest, however, that you don’t read Kings of the North in isolation.