Jennifer Fallon really made her mark with The Lion of Senet, giving us wonderful characters and a very interesting epic plot. Book two of the "Second Sons Trilogy" is Eye of the Labyrinth, and the question is: can she keep it up? We already have over 500 pages of it, and we're only a third of the way done. The answer is yes. Eye of the Labyrinth is even better than The Lion of Senet, mainly because the action is already under way. The book is so full of people plotting against each other that they make Machiavelli look like a reasonably nice guy. Of course, that's part of the book's charm.
After the chilling events toward the end of The Lion of Senet, Dirk Provin, the second son of the Duke of Elcast, is hiding out with the people of King Johan, the man who had to die in order to save them. Dirk is feeling tremendous guilt, and while everybody there seems to accept him, there is one woman, Tia, who refuses to trust him. She sees him as nothing but a spoiled rich brat who will betray them to the Lion of Senet as soon as he's able to. Meanwhile, to bring Dirk out into the open, the Lion intends to execute Dirk's mother now that the Duke has died and his protection of her is gone. The rescue attempt reveals long-buried hatreds, schemes, and may even bring down a religion, as false as it is. It's not only the Lion who wants Dirk, however. The High Priestess Belagren also wants him, because only he can tell her when the Second Sun will go away again. If she can't accurately predict it, her religion will go up in smoke as belief falls away. But Dirk has plans of his own, and nobody can see what they are. Is he working to bring the light of science to the world of Ranadon? Or is he working with the Priestess to keep it in the dark?
I said in my review of The Lion of Senet that I couldn't put that book down. Unfortunately, I had to because of work and other things to do during the week. I started Eye of the Labyrinth late on a Friday night, and I was done by Sunday afternoon. This book I could literally not put down, and I raced through it because I had to know what happened next. All of the characters are so detailed and three-dimensional that only a series this big could contain them. Dirk spends most of the book only hinting at what his plans are, and nothing is ever what it seems. Years have passed by the end of the book, and most of the younger characters have grown and changed a lot in that time. There's Princess Alenor of the kingdom of Dhevyn, who has loved Prince Kirshov (the Lion's second son) since arrived in Senet as a prisoner, and who has known ever since then that Kirsh would be her husband and regent eventually. She undergoes a massive change as she realizes that Kirsh will never love her and has lost his heart to Marqel, a girl who will do anything and sleep with anybody to get the power she craves. Alenor shows a lot of courage when she faces Kirsh down on their wedding night, as well as deciding that she would join the plotting of Dirk's friends against the Lion.
All of the characters are this good, and it's impossible to single any particularly good character out. It's far easier to point out one weakness. Once again, it's Marqel. She is truly power-hungry, murdering at the drop of a hat when it suits her whims. That particular aspect of the character is fine, as we have seen and enjoyed completely amoral characters before. However, she becomes quite annoying to read about as she continually schemes and has internal dialogues where she details what those schemes will be. I found the character to be believable, but I don't think that she was written very well.
The only other fault in this otherwise flawless novel is Tia. She's a good character and I do like her, but it gets old to hear Tia internally telling herself that she can't trust Dirk or that she can't believe that everybody else is trusting him. The repetition serves a purpose as the events of the novel pan out, but it really begins to grate on the reader's nerves whenever she is in the story. What happens to her is tragic and I really felt for her, but I also cringed because I knew it would just cause more of the same. Hopefully the third book will have her toned down a bit, but I'm not holding my breath.
I can't say enough about the plotting or the prose, however. Fallon has a way with words that makes you want to keep reading, and her plot just draws you in so tightly that you can't break free. Perhaps there are a few more coincidences then are believable (which creates a couple of very predictable scenes), but overall the book is full of surprises. Fallon avoids the cliché of the dramatic rescue and instead uses the failure of that rescue to move the plot forward. There are a couple of opportunities for Fallon to fall prey to this, but she only does it when it's right for the story. The schemes of all the characters can make you dizzy at times, but you just have to pay attention. It isn't that difficult as long as you don't skim the book. As you watch the schemes unfold, and watch the characters change things on the fly as circumstances make the ground underneath them shake, you'll have a lot of fun.
Fallon has created a wonderful world and a neat set of characters to inhabit it. Hopefully Lord of Shadows will bring it all to a satisfying conclusion. I know I'm holding my breath for the finale.