It’s a common observation that fantasy is extraordinarily small-c conservative. Almost all fantasy novels are set in static worlds, where nothing ever changes; and the goal of fantasy heroes is to stave off threats to the world and keep it safe and unchanged. So it’s always interesting to read a fantasy novel where the world actually changes and progresses over time, and that’s exactly what we have in Lawrence Watt-Evans’ The Ninth Talisman and The Summer Palace .
These are nominally the final two volumes in Watt-Evans “Annals of the Chosen” trilogy; but structurally, the first book is almost a standalone prologue story, and these two together tell a different story. It’s a strange way to structure a series, but it works fine. In my booklog entry for the first book, I noted that it was a particularly down-to-earth, mundane sort of epic fantasy. That feeling continues in the final two books — something that could have been an exotic expedition among barbarians ends up feeling almost prosaically uncomfortable, for instance — and they add to that a layer of social change that makes the first book seem almost conventional in comparison.
But as interesting and original as these books are, they’re heavily flawed. The third book is repetitive and plodding in the middle, and the final resolution wraps up the plot, but does so in a way that feels unsatisfying and out of tune with the rest of the story. Still, the flaws weren’t so bad that they ruined the books, and I still enjoyed reading them.