Chaz Brenchley,
Feast of the King's Shadow
(Orbit, 2000; Ace, 2003)

In Feast of the King's Shadow: The Fourth Book of Outremer, the main characters of Chaz Brenchley's remarkable fantasy series continue to evolve and grow in complex ways that surprise, touch and, sometimes, trouble me. While my original impressions had long been thrown by the wayside by the end of the second book, my reactions to and concerns for each character have now been essentially taken apart and reformed in new ways.

Of course, tragedy and hardship change people, and difficult indeed have been the individual journeys of the main characters: Julianne, the young and willful daughter of the King's Shadow; Marron, failed acolyte and now seemingly ill-suited Ghost Walker of legend, reluctant bearer of the mystical weapon called the Daughter; Elisande, the mysterious young lady from the hidden land of Surayon, friend and confidante of Julianne and obviously so much more; and Jemel, the Sharai boy who has renounced his tribal ties and pledged to serve his friend Marron.

As this book opens, their party has finally made it through the harsh desert and arrived at the boundaries of Rhabat. It is here that Julianne's father, the King's Shadow, can supposedly be found, and his life saved by his daughter. Here also resides Hasan, the Sharai leader who alone can unite all of the fractious tribes of his land and lead them against Outremer, the land of Julianne and her father.

There is danger in Rhabat, and it eventually emerges from the unholy, feared Dead Waters in the form of hordes of 'ifrits -- spiritual creatures who take on physical form in pursuit of their evil aims. The Ghost Walker is given an ignominious welcome by the Sharai peoples, for now in their time of need Marron is not the mighty savior they have looked for all these years. Not only is he Patric rather than Sharai, he remains committed to his personal oath never to kill again. There are battles fought over the course of these pages, worldly ones pitting steel and bows against the claws and beaks of dark monsters, as well as spiritual battles fought within the human hearts of men and women.

It is somewhat sad to see these characters begin to drift away from one another, and I find myself rather disappointed in Julianne. Originally, she was a rather enchanting young lady of great resolve, but in my eyes she has lost much of her humanity and become something of a hollow player in the events leading up to probable war. While she does fight for the life of her father, her evolving relationship with Hasan and her own actions and words to devoted friends has struck a chord of disdain in this reader's heart. Marron has continued to grow in the face of unprecedented challenges and dilemmas, seeking strength in solace, but I am very uncomfortable with his increasingly more open relationship with Jemel. The sexuality in this book is rather amorphous, and some readers may well reject the entire series of books out of hand for this fact alone. While I disapprove of much that I read here in this regard, I remain fascinated and highly sympathetic with Marron. In my opinion, though, the most important character has now become Elisande. Her feelings for Marron coupled with the distance that begins to develop between her and Julianne contribute to a new depth of sorrow and isolation in this character. She, however, overcomes all of the weights pressing down upon her and triumphs in a very real sense by the novel's close.

Brenchley is a brilliant writer; few authors could introduce so many troubling aspects into a story yet keep me captivated despite my own discomfort level. I have to say I have almost no idea where Brenchley will take this series from here. War looms on the horizon, key characters have already come close to hitting bottom both physically and emotionally, and the shocking ending of Feast of the King's Shadow introduces a completely new source of concern for one of the main characters. I only know that, whatever happens, I will be there to witness it.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 22 May 2004

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