The High King's Tomb: Book Three of Green Rider
by Kristen Britain
Cover Artist: Donato Giancola
Review by Sam Lubell
DAW Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756402662
Date: 01 November 2007 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The High King's Tomb is the third book in the Green Rider series, yet in many ways it reads like the middle book of a trilogy. It continues plot lines from the second book, and, while resolving the immediate crisis, leaves the larger threat unaltered. And while the second book transcended the generic fantasy elements that dominated the first book, this third book seems a half step back. Tomb still is a good read, although probably understandable only by those who have recently read the first two. Fans of Mercedes Lackey' Herald series or any of the many novels in which a young woman comes of age and learns she has magical gifts will feel right at home. But overall, Tomb seemed not quite as good as book two, although still better than book one.
Britain assumes that the reader has read the other two books in the series and jumps right into the story without any attempt to summarize the characters or situation, even though a reader would need a very good memory considering that the last book in the series, the excellent First Rider's Call, came out in 2003. The series is set in the standard fantasy background (essentially Medieval Europe except for magic and female equality). The main character, Karigan G'ladheon, is a Green Rider, part of a special messenger service with secret low-level magic powers. These powers are different for each Rider with Karigan having the ability to turn herself into a ghostlike form. In the first book, Green Rider, Karigan encountered a dying Rider and agreed to carry his final message back to King Zachary. Ultimately she played a major role in defeating a rogue Eletian, a member of a mysterious and magical race, when he tried to destroy a magical wall blocking the evil magic of the Blackveil forest. In the second book, with the help of the ghost of the very first Green Rider, Karigan was able to defeat, temporarily, the spirit of Mornhavon, a black wizard, who was freed by the weakening of the wall in book one.
In The High King's Tomb, Karigan is now an experienced Green Rider and a mentor for new Riders, helping prepare for the eventually return of Mornhavon. She is given a new mission, mainly to get her out of the way as the king prepares to marry royalty, despite a previous romantic interest in Karigan, a commoner. She also receives a disobedient new trainee Rider who regards horses, even the special ones used by the Green Riders, as just meat. Meanwhile, a mysterious thief is collecting objects that may be linked to Mornhavon's return. The spirits of the wall are refusing to cooperate with the Green Rider tasked with rebuilding it, further weakening the kingdom's mystical protections. And the descendants of the long-ago defeated Second Empire are plotting with soldiers loyal to a Lord who had attempted to depose the king. The result is a book that seems to have a lot of disconnected episodes before a plot emerges. Ultimately, Karigan and her trainee, joined by the thief, have to rescue the future queen and defeat the attempt of the Second Empire to find out the secrets of the wall.
Karigan is no longer the reluctant heroine, and is more adult and accomplished. While this maturation is certainly inevitable, after two volumes of adventures, this does takes a bit of the freshness away from her character. Fergal, the trainee rider, seems unlikeable at first, but he turns out to have multiple layers and reasons for his insecurities. However, the thief, the Raven Mask, is not really developed beyond his persona of a charming rogue, familiar to many a fantasy. The villain of the book, the not-so-fearsomely-named Grandmother, is ruthless enough to kill, and has an unusual form of magic conducted by knots in her yarn. But Grandmother is not truly evil, just convinced in the righteousness of her cause.
The first book in the series, Green Rider, the author's first novel, made something of a splash back in 1998, but the second book didn't come out for five years and the wait for the third book was almost as long. And the increasing glut of fantasy novels means that those with only slight twists on familiar formulas no longer stand out as much as they did a decade ago. Still, High King's Tomb is a welcome addition to a very slowly appearing series, even if not quite up to the quality of the previous book. DAW should be commended for not splitting long books up into multiple volumes, unlike some other publishers, instead giving the author the space to tell her story. Despite the horses and the youth of the main character, these are not strictly speaking Young Adult novels, although they are ideal for readers who are making the transition from YAs to full adult novels. Readers who want a well-written retelling of the standard fantasy material, with just enough twists to keep things interesting, should seek these books out. Hopefully, we readers will not have to wait another five years for the next volume.