Monday, December 26, 2011

The Hero Strikes Back by Moira J. Moore

At the end of "Resenting the Hero" Lord Shintaro Karish asked the Empress to be removed from the succession to the title of Lord Westsea without abjuring his family's name. The Empress agreed, but told him that if he changed his mind in the future, it would be the same punishment as if he tried to get abjuring his family name reversed- essentially it would be regarded as treason and he would be subject to a death sentence. Since then, he has been in the Capitol while Lee, who tired of the endless round of parties and entertainments, returned to High Scape, where her mother has come to visit her.

Lee is a bit more irritated by her mother's presence, because her mother seems to want to take over her life. She has issues with the way Lee dresses and thinks that she should dress much more stylishly and femininely than Lee cares to. But Lee doesn't really care about fashion. She dresses more for utlity, even if that makes her look less beautiful than she is, because she doesn't care to spend the time to get dresses made for her body- it simply takes too much time.

Another concern is the weather in High Scape- even though it's summer, it has been extremely cold, as in, winter cold, for several months now, and the people of the city are unhappy that the Sources do nothing to ameliorate the weather. In truth, there is nothing they can do about the weather, but the people don't want to hear that- they assume the weather is just another kind of catastrophe and that it can be eliminated like all the other catastrophes that the Sources deal with on a daily basis. The Sources refusing to do anything (as the citizens view it) is making them angry, and they have been muttering about how much of their money goes to support the sources when they do nothing.

This makes Lee unhappy, and she wants to do something, but what can she do alone? When Taro returns, he tells her the same thing that the other Sources are saying, that nothing can be done about the weather- it's a natural phenomenon and nothing like the catastrophes that the Sources dissipate in the city. Besides, he has another problem to deal with- his mother is coming to see him, and he knows that it's about becoming the Lord of Westsea. Even though he has told his mother that he has no interest in the position, she is bound and determined to change his mind, even if he has pretty much abjured the position- she only sees what she wants and is determined to bring him to heel.

As the Pairs come together to discuss what they can tell the citizens about the weather, the muttering becomes worse, and some of the Pairs are actually attacked. The eldest Source tells them to tell the citizens that they are working on it, but he actually intends to do nothing, which rubs Lee wrong. She tries to convince Taro that they should actually try to do something, as then it won't be a lie, and he tries to reiterate that there is nothing they CAN do, but Lee knows better- Taro can heal some things, and take away pain from people who aren't even in their pair-bond. Isn't it possible that there *is* something they can do, but they just haven't tried it? Reluctantly, he admits she may be right and agrees to try, but it's Lee who feels a sort of wrongness that Taro just can't feel, and sees that the background magic of the city has changed in an indefinable way- but she doesn't know how.

All of this is only possible because Lee can somehow "see" into the magic when Taro is channelling. Just as when they fought off the "Surges"- the strange magical attacks that felled most of the original pairs assigned to High Scape, Lee had visions of her Shields as a wall of bricks. Since then, she hasn't had the same kind of explicit visions, but she has a sense of magic as colors and feelings. And even though she knows little about the magic or talent that the Sources channel, she can somehow change the colors and feelings of the magic as she shields- but she doesn't know what the colors and feelings of the magic should be, so she can't figure out how to bring the weather back to normal- she changes the cold and snow to hot and humid for a time, but that's almost as bad as the snow!

Part of the reason that the people are so angry is that the weather is destroying the crops, and the city will starve if this continues. But as Taro and Lee struggle to fix things, Lee is approached by a Reanist staying in the city. Reanists are forbidden cultists who believe that sacrificing the nobility of the Empire is the only way to keep it safe from the Catastrophes that afflict it- and that these Catastrophes are caused by the Gods who want the blood of the nobility. Lee asks the woman derisively what will happen when they run out of nobles to sacrifice, and the Reanist told her that the catastrophes will end, but Lee doesn't believe that at all.

She talks to Risa, her Runner friend, who is investigating the disappearance of a number of noblemen of penniless estates and thus, no particular worth. While some of them may merely have run off, the large number of them missing is troubling. But it takes an encounter with a snippy saleswoman in a shop catering to noblewomen for Lee to see a card belonging to a club that is the female version of a club that tried to recruit Taro into its ranks. And Taro confirms that there are rarely clubs for both men and women that share the same name. Lee is sure that the club is shady and tells her suspicions to Risa.

Meanwhile, Lee and Taro have to deal with his mother, who looks down on and dislikes any people who are beneath the noble class, and doesn't respect many nobles, either. And despite Lee's mother trying to arrange a dinner between them and his mother to try to smooth things over, the dinner is a disaster. His mother tells him that she is going to petition Crown Prince Gifford to reinstate Taro into the succession for Duke, and Taro is upset that his mother is out to kill him, because if that happens, he will die for treason. The Crown Prince will soon be coming to High Scape for a visit, and his mother intends to stay around for it. But he only really loses his temper when his mother tears into Lee, who has been trying to control herself on Taro's behalf all through this conversation.

This loses his mother not only Lee's support, but her mother's as well, and in the wake of this disastrous dinner, her mother decides to leave, despite having said she would be there for a few months yet. She is upset that Lee is so removed from her mother, and she can't close the gap and have the same kind of relationship with Lee that she has with her other children- one where they come to her with their problems and ask her advice on things that trouble them. The fact that Lee has been trained to stand back from life in order to control herself, and to calm her Source as well, as well as the nature of a Shield to be almost unnaturally calm and in control in everything have grated on her, and she feels a distance between them that this whole incident has made clear can never be bridged- and she finds it bitter indeed.

But can Lee deal with the uproar between her and her mother, save Taro's life from his mother's machinations, help Risa find the missing noblemen, and deal with the unnatural weather that still wreaks havoc on the city of High Scape all at the same time? Something has to give, and it may just be Lee! How can she do her duty, keep Taro safe, and end a magical problem that she has no idea of how to fix, and can she do it before the people of the city take it out on her and Lee, or another of the Pairs stationed in the city?

I started this book immediately after finishing the first one, Resenting the Hero, and so the continuity problems that rose with reading the third book first didn't really bother me. By now, I was invested in Lee and Taro's problems, and we finally get to meet his mother and learn more of his childhood- we always knew that his brother was no prize, given the way that he died in the first book, but now we get to learn the true depth of his cruelty- and that of Taro's family, which made me pretty much despise all of them- and I was gratified to see how Taro dealt with his mother's machinations- the ending of that thread in the book made me grin widely.

I was also starting to feel in a different way for Lee and Taro- they just can't seem to catch a break- as soon as they return to High Scape, or at least are together there, life seems to put them in jeopardy once more- and once again, Taro's life is at risk merely because of what he is. But Lee shares in the danger, when a tavern owner uses the known Shield weakness to music against her and then banishes her from his bar forever because she attacked someone. I also knew by the end what the layout of the room they were in meant at least somewhat before Lee did, and so it wasn't a surprise when Lee figured it out also.

The ending in this book led directly to the third one, which I did remember without having to check this blog to remember the details, although the beginning became clearer as I learned the incident to which the Empress was referring at the beginning of the book. A lot of the Foundation laid in the first book is enlarged on here, and that made me impressed with Moira Moore's storytelling abilities. And this book shares with the first that there is a lot of story going on- so much so that the subtler clues can sometimes pass by unnoticed-but that just makes the story richer and more intriguing to me- I end up feeling like the characters are dunces if I catch on to the ending just from the clues earlier in the book, and they remain clueless throughout- or it just might he a sign of bad writing by the author by making the clues too obvious. Here, I don't have to worry about that.

I loved this book, and I am definitely loving this series. Lee and Taro are strongly-drawn characters, and just as Lee is coming to care for Taro, we the readers are coming to care for him more and more as well. I liked all the characters presented, and the stories make the heroes interesting and intelligent and she hides the clues to the ending and the identities of the villains well while writing a good and compelling story. Highly recommended.

No comments: