Sixteen-year-old Saffron Coulter’s life is changed forever when she witnesses a strange woman she met a few hours ago enter a giant portal leading god-knows-where. Almost unthinkingly Saffron follows and finds herself in a whole new world. This strange woman, Gwen, is originally from Earth but years ago became a worldwalker and made this world and its country of Kena her home.
Kena is in the midst of political turmoil. To Gwen’s eternal regret, she supported a candidate for the thorne who turned out to be a backstabbing tyrant. Now Gwen and the group of rebels she belongs to have laid their sights on forming an alliance with the neighboring country of Veksh, whose government is rife with its own set of tensions and factions. Immediately thrust into a bewildering landscape of magic, politics, and religion, Saffron comes to play an integral role in determining Kena’s future. But at what cost? And what price will she have to pay upon the day she returns home?
Remember two months ago how I wrote in my review of Swordspoint that I hoped to read The Fall of the Kings very soon? Yeah, that took a while.
Reading these books for the first time has led me to familiarize myself with their unusual history. Swordspoint, the first book set in the world containing the city of Riverside, was published in 1987. The Fall of the Kings is the second book in chronological publishing order (2002) but not in linear narrative order, taking place eighty or so years after Swordspoint, whereas the third book in this loosely connected series, The Privilege of the Sword, takes place only a couple decades after Swordspoint. As all three books were written to be read as standalones, it doesn’t matter in which order one reads them. I decided to go with chronological publishing order, in part because I was curious how the gaps in time between the writing and publishing the three books might affect each respective novel.
The Fall of the Kings differs from Swordspoint in three ways:
- The vast majority of the story takes place among the middle class residents of the city and in particular the city’s University, briefly identified in Swordspoint as Alec’s prior place of residence before taking up with St. Vier.
- The book is a collaboration between Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman. Kushner is the originator of this universe and first set of characters, and Sherman is the one who first came up with the idea of writing an in-universe story set amidst the middle class and University.
- There is magic. Old, wild, powerful, and wondrous magic.
Smiler’s Fair is slightly outside my wheelhouse—not only is it an epic fantasy written in a more grimdark, GRRM-esque style (which I’ve been sort-of-but-not-really trying to avoid), but it’s a UK novel that’s currently unavailable in the United States. (I was able to procure a copy thanks to ILL.)
So why did I decide to read it? Curiosity, mainly. I’d read the book’s synopsis and a review on tor.com and was intrigued by the story’s premise and the promise of a band of raggledy-taggledy characters.
“This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another. This has happened before, after all. People die. Old orders pass. New societies are born. When we say “the world has ended,” it’s usually a lie, because the planet is fine.
But this is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
For the last time.”
I’m starting off this review with this quote because it’s the best description ofThe Fifth Season there is.
(Sidenote: I keep accidentally typing out The Fifth Element. I wonder if I’m not the only one doing this.)
I’ll give a bit more detail.