Today's first review, that I've been putting off for a couple of days, is Raven's Strike by Patricia Briggs.
This is the direct sequel to Raven's Shadow. It tells a complete episode with the characters established in the previous book, and appears to wrap things up, leaving no major loose ends.
This is a fun fantasy romp. It's at a high enough power level that it strains believability a bit -- with gods becoming directly involved in the story, the effective power of various characters starts to become a bit arbitrary, with the characters having just the ability they need to do the next thing in the plot. But the characters are well drawn and interesting, and the story is reasonably exciting. (We're fairly sure the world will be saved, after all, but it never feels like we're guaranteed that no one will get hurt along the way.) There's some descriptions of magic that are interesting, providing some original details but without explaining things so far that it starts to sound bogus. There's some interesting thoughts along the way about good and evil, how power corrupts, and on the nature of myth.
I found the first book of this set slightly disappointing, not quite as the other books of Briggs' I've read. Although this book is a clear continuation of that one, I found it slightly better. It may just be that I'd already bought into the main characters, despite the ways that they're a little too good to believe, or maybe I'm in a more charitable mood.
8 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
Tier, Seraph, and all are coming home after the big fight in the last book when Benroln receives a Traveler-magic summons to fix a problem. Tier and his family want to head home, afraid that the bad guy who escaped the big fight will come after Rinnie, the daughter they left at home, but the rest of the clan goes to answer the summons. Tier and Seraph find the whole village cowering behind the wards at her farm, menaced by an enormous troll. They dispatch the troll, but it's the first warning that the Shadowed is causing more trouble in their area. Then Tier starts to show symptoms that something is wrong with his Bardic Order. Seraph's magic lets her see the Order like a cloth draped over him, and the cloth is starting to fray and show holes. Right about now, emperor Phoran shows up on their doorstep. He'd been cleaning house in the capital, which included personally beheading thirteen of the Septs who directly conspired against him. But he avoids an assassination attempt in the palace only thanks to the Memory, which he thought had been freed by the big battle in the last book. And he discovers that the artifact that proves that the emperor is free of magic taint detects the Memory; if one of his remaining enemies thinks to demand that he public be tested again, he's toast, so he's fled the capital, seeking out the only people who he thinks might be able to rid him of the Memory: Tier and Seraph. So they send Lehr and Jes to track down the clan and fetch back the old healer Brewydd, only to discover that the city they went to succor has been struck by a Shadowed plague. Everyone's dead except Brewydd, and she was only hanging on to be able to pass along a vision. They must find Colossae, the ancient city that the Travelers sacrificed to become Travelers. They all go off on a quest. They find Colossae, and in Colossae they find Hinnum, the mage who made the mermori and is remembered as the greatest wizard of Colossae. He starts to teach them some things. They put together enough clues to realize that the Shadowed is actually Willon, the merchant and, so they thought, a friend. Eventually, they learn that the stories they knew of the end of Colossae and their stories of the gods were a bit garbled. Originally, there were two great gods, the Weaver and the Stalker, personifying creation and destruction. The Stalker is not evil, but the interplay of the Weaver and the Stalker was becoming too powerful for the world to survive, so they themselves created a binding that would isolate them from the world, in the persons of six lesser gods. All was well with the world until some greedy bastard decided that he wanted to be granted the favor of the War god. When the War god wouldn't grant it, he somehow had the power to take it by force, killing the War god in the process and breaking the balance that kept the Weaver and the Stalker bound. To prevent the world being destroyed, the remaining gods and the wizards came up with the idea of sacrificing the whole city of Colossae for power, and tearing the gods' powers into fragments without personality, the Orders. Unfortunately, because the War god wasn't willingly sacrificed, they couldn't make the pieces of his spirit, the Eagle orders, clean and free of emotion. To counter that, they spun the magic so that the Eagle orders, rather than going to warlike people, would only go to the most sensitive, empathic people. These people could keep the war god's power from running wild, but it tended to make them go crazy at a young age. The other interesting wrinkle in the story of the creation of the Orders is that the goddess of magic had to actually be part of the working, so she couldn't be killed at the same time as the other gods. It was Hinnum's job to do her in as her power was divided into the Raven Orders, but he loved her too much to be able to do it, so instead, he erased her memory and left her with just a shard of her original power, and she became Hennea. Alhennea, the goddess of magic, was the consort of the war god, which is part of why Hennea is so much in love with Jes, who has a bit of the war god's personality with the Eagle Order. One of the emperor's guards turns out to be a traitor. He kidnaps Rinnie when Willon comes to Colossae to finish the fight. It seems that he couldn't figure out the secret of extracting the Orders, so he wanted the Ravens to do it, which is why he'd allowed them to steal the Order gems. But Rinnie discovers that Cormorants really can fly, allowing her to escape. The good guys have come up with a ritual that's supposed to defeat the Shadowed. It was supposed to involve the names of the gods, but they were only able to get one of them. Tier says the name and finds himself in the personal presence of the Stalker. The Stalker tests him, and when he proves that he's willing to bear the pain the Stalker hits him with, the Stalker agrees to let Tier channel his power. Tier holds off the power of the Shadowed, and Jes and the Memory off Willon. And they lived happily ever after.