Book Review: The High King's Tomb by Kristen Britain

Title:  The High King's Tomb

Author:  Kristen Britain

Publisher: DAW

Publication Date: November 4, 2008

Genres: Epic Fantasy

Shelves: Female-fronted

I have a confession to make - I like big books. Give me a big, thick, door stopper of a mass-market paperback and I'm a happy reader, especially when it comes to fantasy. That brings me to the third - and, so far, longest - book of the Green Rider series, The High King's Tomb. Where I have seen other reviews bemoan the length of this, going so far as to suggest Kristen Britain deliberately padded it, perhaps reluctantly, I enjoyed it immensely.

Sure, the pacing is a bit uneven, and there are long passages where nothing significant happens, but the strength of the storytelling, the depth of character development, the expansion of the world-building, and the sheer whimsy of certain scenes were more than enough to keep me reading. This book is what epic fantasy is all about, a work of magical escapism that engages the mind as well as the emotions.

For one, Britain weaves a love triangle between Karigan, Estora, and Zachary that actually works, a clash of conflicting relationships that feels genuine, significant, and mature. Making that work means we must endure extended scenes of wedding preparations and family drama, which does become tiresome, but it also sets up a comic scene of action where Karigan must fight a thief while dressed in a corset and gown, and that scene elevates Amberhill from annoying fop to conflicted, complex character. Admittedly, I wondered for a long while what his ultimate role in the story would be, but there is a moment near the end - a moment of both whimsy and world building - that sets him up for a bigger role in the coming books. The other new character here who casts a shadow over things is the Grandmother, a mysterious sorceress who wields powerful dark magic in pursuit of restoring the Second Empire. The knotting of yarn has never been so creepy, nor so unsettling, and by the end of the book you will believe in a threat to rival that of Mornhavon.

Despite the early fluff, there are some huge moments in this volume, including the climactic battle in The High King's Tomb involving Karigan, the Weapons, and a descent into the tombs beneath the castle. Not only do those scenes make great use of Karigan's ability to fade, but they explain why she has the ability and what it means. That connection to the book's deeper mythology is teased slowly, with glimpses and glimmers throughout the book, but the payoff is worth it. The scenes inside the D'yer Wall are a high point as well, despite the prolonged discussion, Alton worrying, and the waiting for the magic, and the rescue of Estora is a swashbuckling adventure in and of itself.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀