Everyone’s heard of “middle child syndrome”, in which a child who has both a younger and older sibling often feels less important in the eyes of his or her parents. No longer the centre of attention by being the youngest who needs more high maintenance, but also lacking the freedoms that usually come with age, they feel hard done by and neglected.
How about the sophomore jinx, the problems an athlete, or anyone, will have for that matter, following up on an opening success? The rookie hockey player who scores a hundred points only to see his totals halved in his second season is the usual scenario. It leads people to question the abilities or the talent of the person in question. Were they just a flash in the pan, or will they be able to overcome a few setbacks and regain the form of their first year?
Well, I’d like to add a new phrase into that mix for your contemplation – the middle book lull. How often have you found the second book of any trilogy to be the weakest? It can’t live up to the interest generated by the introduction of characters, plot, and background that happens in book one, and has none of the climactic excitement of the finale that occurs in book three.
The problem is that simple exposition, or storytelling, without any resolution at the end, is probably the most difficult thing for an author to carry off successfully. There’s no real beginning to capture a reader’s attention or ending to hold their interest. It’s a nebulous middle ground that would test any author’s mettle.
Even in a single-volume novel, the meat of the story is what makes or breaks an author’s work; do they have the talent to take their idea and breath enough life into it to sustain the reader’s interest? In the case of a trilogy those problems are even more obvious because any deficiencies on the part of the author in that area will become glaringly obvious.
But it’s not just their own skill that an author must contend with, but a reader’s expectations of what a book should be. It’s hard to rid oneself of the desire for a beginning, middle, and end to be contained within the covers of any book. A reader, and a critic, has to change their means of assessment when it comes to the middle book in a trilogy. It has to be judged within the context of how well it does its job within the context of the trilogy.
That being said, it is still up to the author to convince us to keep reading, and to keep our interest in the story kindled sufficiently to care enough about the characters and the plot to want to read the conclusion. The author was the one, after all, who made the choice to embellish the story to the extent that it required three books. The challenge is to prove that there really is sufficient story to warrant the amount of pages they have written. (Being the perverse sort of creature I am, sometimes when I’m in doubt about a series or an author I will deliberately read the second book first. If it is able to capture my attention than I figure it’s worth reading the lot.)
Wild Magic is book two in Jude Fisher’s Fool’s Gold trilogy and to her credit she manages to continue to develop and elaborate on all the elements she introduced in book one, Sorcery Rising. She even manages to make book two in some ways even more intriguing than its predecessor.
It’s as if now that’s she free of the obligation of introducing us to the cast of characters and the plot lines, she has let her imagination loose upon them, to great effect. After bringing everybody together in book one at the Allfair in Istria, she’s scattered them out into the world to begin their own quests.
The Aranson clan have returned to their land in Eyra, where Katla must recuperate from injuries sustained when the Istria attempted to burn her at the stake. Her father Aron’s obsession with taking a ship to find the mysterious island of Sanctuary continues to grow and colours every decision he makes.
When it looks as if Katla will surely never be able to regain the use of one hand, her grandmother calls in the local equivalent of a sorcerer to attempt a healing. The seither realizes that somehow the old magic that has long lain dormant has been reawakened within Katla and she has the potential for great power.
Meanwhile young Saro Vingo in Istria is beginning to discover the full horror of being attuned to the feelings of others. In Sorcery Rising he had received an amulet known as a modestone from one of the Wanderers. When the man was accidentally killed in frot of Saro he also passed on his ability to sense the thoughts of others simply through physical contact.
The modestone is unfortunately not just a pretty trinket. Saro discovers that it seems to be able to increase his abilities to such an extent that, even though he has no recollection of it happening, he has literally absorbed the souls of three men. It seems that the more emotional and violent the environment, the stronger the pull of the stone, and the further he recedes from awareness.
Even when the environment is relatively calm his sensitivity gradually increases to the extent that even inanimate objects now give off the emotions of all who have touched them previously. Wearing gloves helps him to an extent, but even that only mutes the experience.
When Virelai, the former wizard’s apprentice who fled the island of Sanctuary for the wonders of the world, has a chance encounter with Saro in the capital of Istria, he recognizes the stone from descriptions in some of the wizard’s diaries he’d stolen. He discovers that the stone, if wielded in a certain manner, could be used as a kind of ultimate weapon that would destroy all life.
Why, after 200 years of quiet, has the magic awakened with such virulence? Whose is the mysterious voice that speaks as if from the very bones of the earth to both Saro and Katla when they are in the trance-like state that they slip into when their connection to the power becomes strong?
More and more the answers look to lie with the mysterious woman that the King of Erya has married, Rosa Eldi, who Virelai stole out of Sanctuary when he made his escape. Not only has she the power to beguile a man on sight, which is how she came to be chosen by the King as his bride, other powers are slowly coming to light.
It’s frightening to her, as it would be to anyone else if they knew, that she can do things like will plants to grow and bear fruit in the middle of winter. She has no idea who she is or where any of these powers came from, but is beginning to have memories of herself and another place.
Only one person understands who she is. The same seither who had been called in to heal Katla had been sent for by the King’s mother to dispose of this harlot who had stolen the heart of her son. But although the seither recognises who Rosa is, she cannot tell her, for fear that the knowledge will do her damage. All she can do is aid her in he recovery of her memories.
But the path back for the old magic is convoluted, and won’t be easy. Too many forces are arrayed against it and the men of both countries have allowed themselves to be corrupted by their own greed and pride. If Rosa is somehow connected to the rebirth or sorcery, and both Saro and Katla are tied into it, what do the fates have in store for them?
What about Aron and his mad quest to find Sanctuary? Will whatever he finds there be worth the incredible sacrifices it’s taken for him to make the journey? Can the world they all live in survive long enough for them to even find out the answers?
Jude Fisher has deftly kept the action flowing and the suspense building in Wild Magic. Instead of being satisfied with merely continuing the story started in Sorcery Rising she has managed to build upon her foundation an intricate adventure of mystery, intrigue, and magic.
As Wild Magic draws to a close the answers to some questions are close to being resolved, but that only gives rise to deeper and more puzzling riddles. There is no sophomore jinx at work in this book. Our appetites our whetted superbly for the conclusion of Fool’s Gold by this well-written and intricate novel.
Book three, The Rose Of The World holds forth the promise of an exciting conclusion to an already compelling series.