The Vacant Throne
by Joshua Palmatier
Cover Artist: Larry Rostant
Review by Sam Lubell
DAW Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756405311
Date: 06 January 2009 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The Vacant Throne is the third book in Palmatier's Throne series, an interesting traditional fantasy by a new author. He puts in a few new ideas – especially the view of magic as a river; the character of Varis, who is a guttersnipe assassin turned mistress of the city; and, of course, the stored personalities imprisoned in the throne of the title. This was enough to freshen up the old familiar traditional fantasy, but not too much for fantasy purists. The Vacant Throne resolves the situation introduced in the second book, but leaves plenty of room for further adventures.
The book jumps right into the thick of things, without a recap to refresh the reader's mind of the previous volumes. The invading Chorl have been defeated, at the cost of the Throne's power. Even without the Throne being active, Varis, Mistress of the city of Amenkor, continues to have dreams of the lives of the people who built and empowered the Throne. The first third of the book, about the rebuilding of Amenkor, is very slow. Varis tries to cure Erick, her mentor, from a coma caused by a Chorl spell. She also tries to convince their captive to teach them how the Chorl magnify their powers by linking up. At the same time there are elements of romance between Varis and the merchant William.
The book speeds up when it shifts attention to a new city. As she helps rebuild Amenkor, Varis eventually concludes that the other Throne, which everyone thought had long since vanished, must still secretly exist in the city of Venitte, an ally of Amenkor. When she learns that the Chorl were making their way to Venitte, presumably to gain control of its Throne the way they tried to do to hers, she puts together a group of fighters and advisers, plus the sole surviving Chorl captive, to warn Venitte and help.
But once there, she finds political intrigue and treachery. This city is ruled by a committee, not a single Mistress, and not everyone believes her intentions are helpful. In fact, politics and distrust interfere with her attempts to prevent the invasion, leading to a three-way fight among the Chorl, the people of Venitte, and Varis' team with a surprising ally. Varis makes mistakes but so do the rulers of Venitte.
The first two books in the series gained interest from the first person narration of Varis as she slowly learned about the city around her and the power she possesses. The second book had an interesting element in the internal conflict between Varis' personality, formed by growing up as a beggar child and assassin, and her new role as revered Mistress of the whole city. While some of that continued in The Vacant Throne, mainly in the many references to Varis' insistence on wearing her dagger everywhere, in this book Varis goes from all-powerful ruler of a city to a guest who must convince others to support her ends. Although the atmosphere of the city played a major role in the first two books, shifting location helped this one.
I liked the trilogy as a whole and feel this book wrapped up everything that needed a resolution – essentially restoring the status quo that existed at the end of the first book. However, I felt that the third book was the weakest of the three. For example, a crucial goal is accomplished off-stage, by a secondary character, at almost the very end, as if he author was saying, "Oh, by the way…" Also, the first third of the book seemed a bit slow, especially as the rebuilding of Amenkor played no role in the rest of the book which was mostly set in the other city.
Some of the elements that made the first book fairly innovative – the ruler sending Seekers to kill those who have committed evil, the view of magic as a river with colors indicating threats – are downplayed in this volume. I recommend reading the first book in the series, The Skewed Throne, which I felt was the strongest and stands alone nicely. Then, people who want to find out what happens next could continue with the next two. Still, for a first trilogy by a new author, the Throne series is an impressive effort. It will be interesting to see what Palmatier does next.