Back in September I reviewed C. S. Friedman’s “Feast of Souls,” the first book of the Magister Trilogy. I finally read the second book!
“Wings of Wrath” picks up where “Feast of Souls” left off. The Wrath is a wall/spell separating the civilized world from the wintry north, which is where the Souleaters were banished long ago. The Souleaters are dragonfly-like creatures who seduce their human prey before consuming it. If they are left unchecked, they’ll destroy even the remotest possibility of human civilization. The only hope lies in the hands of a female Magister, a pregnant queen, a monkish king, and a bastard.
One of the things I like about this book is that every act of magic has a price: life essence. Everyone has a finite amount of life essence, and once you run out, you’re dead. As such, all magic operates under certain rules and assumptions, even if the average people don’t know what exactly they are.
Friedman uses her magic system to create a world of astonishing moral ambiguity. None of the major protagonists can be considered completely good or evil. Kamala is a Magister, which means that she feeds off of the life essence of innocent people until she bleeds them dry and they perish. (Fun fact: After I published my review of “Feast of Souls,” the search term “feeds off of souls of children” has led several people to my blog. I’m not sure whether to be proud or horrified.) Every heroic act that Kamala commits is paid for in human life. The Wrath that protects humanity is likewise made possible by a heinous crime. Our protagonists are not the white knights that one normally expects to see in fantasy. Likewise, the Souleaters are portrayed as a civilization seeking their own place in the world, and not the evil monsters that they could be. All in all, this makes for a complex and balanced tale.
One of Friedman’s strengths is writing strong female characters who are able to rise above the most daunting of circumstances. Kamala becomes a Magister because she had been abused and taken advantage of earlier in her life. Her quest for power originates in self-defense, but evolves into much more than as she throws in her lot in the fight against the Souleaters. Queen Gwynofar likewise has suffered much hardship in her lifetime, but because of the gift of her bloodline she finds herself in a unique position that calls for both strength and sacrifice. Perhaps the most intriguing character to me thus far though is Siderea, the Witch Queen, although there’s not much I can say about her that wouldn’t be a major spoiler.
“Wings of Wrath” is well-written and doesn’t suffer from middle book syndrome. One of the things I like about this trilogy is that each book has its own story arc that is a part of the larger whole. It doesn’t end on a giant cliffhanger, but rather is the close of one chapter within a greater saga.
I’d recommend the Magister Trilogy to anyone who enjoys a good dark fantasy where characters blur the lines between good and evil.