The third book in Kristen Britainís ďGreen RiderĒ series, The High King's Tomb, continues Britainís progress as a writer. Itís an excellent though extremely long tale of fantasy politics and magic that keeps you reading despite what time you might have to get up in the morning. I get more and more impressed with Britainís writing with every book, so itís a shame that it takes her so long to produce the next one. Perhaps thatís the cause for the improvement? Whatever the case, this book is fabulous.
After the climactic events of First Riderís Call, Karigan Gíladheon has now become a veteran Green Rider (one of the Kingís messengers who cross the land to deliver the Kingís business). The various riders are healing their wounds as preparations for the Kingís marriage are being made. Karigan, to whom King Zachary professed his love in the last book, can hardly bear to watch and is thrilled when sheís given a mission that will take her across the land on a series of tasks. In performing her mission, however, sheíll have to come to terms with some family secrets that spring up to haunt her. As well, sheíll have to deal with an ages-old conspiracy to bring down the King and release the evil thatís been walled away in the North for so long. The fact that the wall is beginning to fail and the magical skill to reinforce it has long been lost doesnít help matters, either.
The High King's Tomb is a huge book, and as you work your way toward the ending, you might feel like thereís no way Britain can wrap it up in time. The fact that she manages to do so despite leaving hooks for the next book in the series speaks to her writing capability. The ending does come a bit abruptly, but itís not really that bad. The story proceeds at a fairly leisurely pace, though in hindsight every scene is important either to further the plot or to further Kariganís (or the viewpoint character at the time) characterization.
The story is told through multiple points of view, which can be a little distracting at first. Britain uses this to paint a broad canvas, though, giving the reader more insight into what is going on. Karigan is of course the main one, but we also get individual views of the two Riders tasked with figuring out whatís going on at the wall, as well as Lord Amberhill, a noble with a roguish secret, and Grandmother, the main villain of the book. These different viewpoints stitch the story into a wonderful tapestry that hangs together very well, each character giving the reader both sides of the story when they do finally meet.
My one major complaint about First Riderís Call was the seemingly superfluous nature of the Zachary-Karigan ďromanceĒ and how it was handled. Britain makes that a major plot point in The High King's Tomb, and while I would still like to have seen more done with it previously, she more than redeems herself here. It doesnít help Karigan that the woman Zachary has to marry (and as a King, he does have to) is also a friend of hers, one for whom the Green Riders have kept a secret for the last few years.
Britainís characterization skills have improved greatly as well. Karigan has always been fascinating, and Britain does a wonderful job with her as usual. This time, however, there arenít cardboard characters who exist mainly for the plot. We get some returning villains from the first book who are given much more menace, as well as some delightful new ones. Fergal, the Rider trainee Karigan has to drag with her, is amusingly eager; his story is well done considering we never actually see his viewpoint. Karigan teaches him a lot about what it takes to be a Rider, but she also learns from him. Grandmother and her Second Empire society are interesting. While Iím not very happy about their disappearance at the end of the book, Iíve learned to expect Britain to follow up on them in the next book, so Iíll give her a pass for the moment.
Whatís most important is that Britain keeps the plot moving and interesting. While the characters do get introspective at times, these scenes donít drag on like some authors make them do. It helps that weíre intrigued by the characters anyway, making these scenes actually useful to the reader. Whatís even better is that the book doesnít throw in action simply for the sake of it. The plot moves through dialogue and the actions of the characters, but there are very few fight scenes. Those are well-done, and the climactic scenes in the tomb are wonderful, but Britain doesnít need to throw them in there just to keep people reading.
The High King's Tomb is definitely worth a read for the fantasy lover. Britain even generally avoids the fantasy stereotypes that plagued her first two books, as well as stale character interaction. When Amberhill and Karigan finally meet (not counting their first meeting, when Amberhill was disguised), she avoids the typical interaction between characters like this. Britain actually manages to surprise occasionally. The Eletians are still basically Elves, but at least theyíre given a bit more uniqueness, even as they donít really do a lot in this book.
I would definitely suggest starting at the beginning of the series, but The High King's Tomb does give you everything you need to know if you just want to start here. Whichever way you do it, know youíve got a wonderful fantasy series ahead of you. Britainís track record indicates that the fourth book will be, if possible, even better than this one. Unfortunately, also given her track record, it might come out in 2020. Whenever it comes out, it will be worth the wait.