Following a science fiction stint during which she wrote This Alien Shore (Canada, USA, Europe) and The Wilding, acclaimed SFF author C. S. Friedman returned to fantasy in 2007 with the release of the excellent Feast of Souls (Canada, USA, Europe). To my consternation, to this day the first installment in The Magister trilogy remains one of the genre's best-kept secrets. How a novel by the author who brought us the celebrated Coldfire trilogy could remain so underrated, I'll never know.
Though Feast of Souls flew low under the radar of a majority of SFF fans, the book nevertheless set the bar quite high for the forthcoming sequels. I had lofty expectations for Wings of Wrath, and I was uncertain whether or not Friedman could deliver. Well, not only did she deliver, but C. S. Friedman wrote what will likely be one of the very best fantasy novels of the year!
Following the events chronicled in Feast of Souls, Kamala is now being hunted down by the Magisters for killing one of their brethren. Disguised as a common witch, she must hide the truth behind her magical powers. Aware that even the Magisters fear the mystical barrier known as the Wrath, Kamala flees to the northern Protectorates. Yet all is not as it should be in the north, as the Wrath -- humanity's only protection and last line of defense against the Souleaters, an enemy that once brought civilization on the brink of doom -- appears to be weakening. The Guardians of the Wrath dispatch Rhys to the Alkali Protectorate to discover what afflicts the Spears. When Rhys is captured during his investigation, Kamala is forced to rescue him. Together, they'll uncover the truth about the disruption in the Wrath, a discovery which risks to shake the Guardians' faith to the core of its foundations. In the High Kingdom, as surviving royal heir the monk Salvator Aurelius must claim the vacant throne. Soon afterward, allies and enemies alike will seek to test their new monarch's mettle. And in the southern land of Sankara, the Witch-Queen Siderea will be offered the means to strike back at the Magisters who used and then abandoned her to her fate. But such a gift bears a terrible price, one that would make her something other than human. Against such a turbulent backdrop, mankind must now prepare for the return of the dreaded Souleaters.
Feast of Souls hinted that it would be the case, but Wings of Wrath proves that The Magister trilogy is vaster in scope than anything Friedman has written to date. The author expands on the back story, and numerous revelations regarding the Wrath, the Spears, the lyr blood, the Guardians and the Protectorates, the Souleaters, and much, much more make this book resound with depth. And there are countless secrets left to uncover, which makes it hard to believe that there's only one volume left to tie up all the loose ends. The worldbuilding is intriguing and rich in details, even though every answer provided raises yet more questions. Friedman has that damnable tendency to keep you begging for more!
Characterization has always been Friedman's forte, and once again she doesn't disappoint. Kamala was the principal protagonist in Feast of Souls, yet the sequel focuses a lot more on a number of secondary characters. To a certain extent, and I'm persuaded that this was meant to be one of the novel's themes, the storylines concentrate on three female characters fighting back to regain a measure of control in their lives. There's Kamala, who endeavors to find ways to gain some leverage against the Magisters. With her soulfire all be snuffed out, Siderea must find a way to prolong her life and exact her vengeance on those who left her to die alone and forgotten. And there's Gwynofar, who fights to protect what's left of her family, even though her son's Penitent faith makes this undertaking incredibly difficult. Working behind Salvator's back, she seeks to maintain stability in the High Kingdom. And as a lyra, she is sworn to protect the world from the foretold return of the Souleaters. All those POVs are well-executed, particularly that of the Witch-Queen, whose storyline truly takes off in this book. This insightful fleshing out of these three women provide a lot of character growth and adds another dimension that what was already a superior read. The other main protagonist is Rhys, Guardian of the Wrath, who is probably the most interesting character of the cast. Once more, Friedman offers us a few tantalizing glimpses of the secret lives of Magisters Colivar and Ramirus, with hopefully more revelations to come in the third volume.
It's now evident that the author laid a lot of groundwork for the rest of this trilogy in Feast of Souls. With that done, Wings of Wrath is paced perfectly. One moves from chapter to chapter, always wanting a bit more.
À la George R. R. Martin, the author demonstrates yet again that she has no qualms about killing off important characters. Try not to get too attached to any of them. . .
As was the case with its predecessor, Friedman closes the show in Wings of Wrath with a bang. And again, though satisfying in every sense of the word, she leaves the door open for so much more that it makes you eager for the grand finale.
Wings of Wrath is C. S. Friedman writing at the top of her form. This series is head and shoulders above most of the competition on the market today. And if the final installment lives up to its promise, we may soon refer to the Coldfire trilogy as that other fantasy series written by Friedman. Yes, it's that damn good.
Hard to put down. Wings of Wrath is definitely one of the fantasy books to read in 2009!
The final verdict: 9/10
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