This is a commemorative read, Patricia McKillip passed away just recently.
Synopsis: This second book in the trilogy sets off one year after the events of book one. Its main protagonist isn’t Morgon anymore but switches to his betrothed one Raederle. She is not only heir to the throne of An but also the titular heir of Sea and Fire. Which means that she has a magical gift that she develops continously as her quest to seek for Morgon progresses. That cover picture embraces Raederle as a warrior princess, only in 1980’s style.
There’s a lot of political unrest with an ongoing war, rulers leaving their country, and the land-rulership of Hed passing to Morgon’s brother Eliard.
Raederle is accompanied by two other strong women: Lyra, the heir of Herun’s Morgul, and Morgon’s teenage sister Tristan. They convince the captain of Raderle’s guard to set off with them to find and rescue Morgon-the-damsel-in-distress.
Clashes with shapechangers are expected, but Raederle has to accept that some of her ancestors are not only witches but also shapechangers which might alienate her from Morgon and also from her family. Like Morgon, she has to wrestle with ghosts, the dead kings of An.
Review: This book reminds me a lot of Ursula LeGuin’s second EarthSea-book, The Tombs of Atuan. Not only because it has a similar, distant and refined narrative voice (as many books of these two authors have in common), but mainly because LeGuin switched the main protagonist role from Ged, a classical male wizard hero to Tenar, a strong female protagonist on a journey of self-discovery. And similarly, we still don’t know what’s behind all those mysteries, in contrast to many other books where it’s perfectly well clear what the antagonist is up to.
Raederle follows a typical Heroes journey, in this case from an aristocratical girl to a superhero witch out of some Celtical myth, very similarly to witch Sybel in Forgotten Beasts of Eld.
Just like the first book asked “Who is the Star-Bearer?”, this second book asks “Who is Raederle of An?”, providing an answer but stopping just before the stricture which is hopefully given in the third book, Harpist in the Wind.
McKillip’s excellent, evocative and elegant prose carries the story more than the plot does. It builds up a certain dialogue between author and reader, especially because of the distance to its ensemble which reminds very much of classical tragedies rather than what one would read in more modern fantasy titles. The plot itself brings some interesting twists and one remarkable scene with Raederle figuratively arm-wrestling a ghost king and surviving a night of terrors. One should read this book for this scene alone!
The book feels very much like a middle-book in a trilogy. With an already well-introduced setting, most characters already established, the book was half-a-star less enjoyable than the excellent first book. Which doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t recommend it full-heartedly. But let’s wait and see what the third and last book will offer!