In Brief: Tom Lloyd’s second in this series, The Twilight Herald, continues recounting the ascent of Isaak, a former wagon boy, to Lord of the Farlan and chosen of the gods. The book strives for a legendary tone, with powerful characters seeking artifacts, weapons, and bold military and strategic victories.
Pros: Lloyd’s familiarity with many of the conventions of high/epic fantasy (along with, presumably, his editorial background) helps him avoid pitfalls and cliches. The main characters, including Isaak, are strongly written and fairly approachable (no mean feat since some of them are super-heroic and/or immortal).
Cons: The pacing seemed uneven at times, with a lot of slow building as the players make their way to Scree and the big showdown. The insertion of certain bits of background history and prophecy seemed labored, almost ham-fisted at points. This is a second book, and it has that feel of setting up for the next one.
Review: The Twilight Herald picks up directly after the first book in Tom Lloyd’s fantasy series, The Strormcaller (reviewed here). Lord Isaak has only just assumed the mantle of Duke of the Farlan, and he immediately faces a rebellion of some of his own banner men, as well as the political fallout from new alliances and the previous Farlan Lord’s death. Isaak faces these challenges with measure of clumsy resolve, humility, and raw power. Understandable, as he’s a young White-Eye still learning about his power and the nature of his bond to Nartis, God of Storms, and patron of the Farlan.
Meanwhile, in the City-State of Scree, Rojak, a mysterious servant of the shadow-god Azaer, has begun putting on very strange plays in the heart of the city. Scree is on the verge of civil war, with the ruling White Council having been defeated elsewhere in the region, and the regent of Scree has begun employing mercenaries to assist with defenses. Among these is Zhia Vukotic in disguise. Zhia is a powerful vampire cursed with a soul and a conscience, who, like Isaak, carries a crystal skull (ancient artifact of power). Also in Scree, the Abbot of a sacked monastery, who is hiding his own crystal skull from the former monk who burned the monastery and killed many of his brothers. This rogue monk, we soon learn, serves Rojak now.
Soon thereafter, Isaak’s ally, King Emin arrives in Scree in secret, along with his elite guards and spies. One of his men, Doranei, catches the eye and interest of Zhia. Between them, Zhia and King Emin begin to realize that Rojak’s play has cast a powerful spell over the city – designed to slowly drive the citizenry away from their gods and into madness. By the time Isaak also arrives in secret, the spell has taken hold, and Scree crumbles into chaos and war.
Now that’s just a very bare-bones plot outline, but you get the idea. Whole lot of plotting going on, with major players, wielder of crystal skulls, and leaders of nations drawn to Scree as part of Rojak’s sinister spell. There’s also a necromancer in the employ of Karstan Styrax (Isaak’s sworn enemy, who killed Duke Bahl at the end of the last book) thrown in, as well as Isaak’s continuing quest to free the seer Xeliath a continent away. Sometime the author is able to pull off the quick transitions, explain the significant background and keep the reader engaged; sometimes this jumping around doesn’t work so well. You get the sense Tom Lloyd has a massive private wiki or binder filled with the history, politics, religions, etc. of this World, and he’s hard-pressed not to bludgeon us with it at times. All this research and world-building does add to an epic sense of the major movements, though.
A strength of the first book were the main characters and how Lloyd was able to infuse powerful beings like Isaak and Lord Bahl with some palpable wants and needs. Keeping them real. There’s simply not as much time/space for that here (all that plot), but the author does a nice turn with Doranei, King Emin’s man – who acts as a grounding post amid the chaos. Isaak doesn’t get as many chapters as you might expect, but when he does, Lloyd continues to develop the young Lord.
The story continues to touch on various prophecies, the role of the gods in the Land, and how Isaak and the other White Eyes become entangled within them. You can definitely sense a theme of challenging the gods here, and a strength of the underlying mythos (for me, at least) is the fact that these prophecies can conflict, confuse, and may not always be inevitable. Certainly Isaak believes this, which gives him a certain strength and sense of reckless appeal to his followers (and leaders).
Bottom Line: You should definitely read The Stormcaller first. If you like that one, you won’t be disappointed by The Twilight Herald. Tom Lloyd moves things along and continues to tap this vein of high fantasy and powerful characters with enough characterization to keep it relevant. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, The Grave Thief.