The Scarlet Tides, second book of the Moontide Quartet by David Hair, fairly non-surprisingly picks up where the first in the series left off. This is both completely obvious and slightly telling; you see I found the second half of the first outing infinitely better than the first. So picking up from that point is obvious from a narrative angle; and also a major plus from the enjoyment side.
The setup is a very familiar one. Pseudo –Europe goes on a crusade against a pseudo-Middle East. Those who dislike a lot of real world parallels will not be thrilled; those willing to immerse themselves in the world anyway will not be disappointed. One of the things that sets this tale apart from some of the others who have borrowed the crusade theme is that it follows both sides of the struggle. From there we see splits and a multitude of different cultures within the factions themselves. No mindless hordes or oversimplification of the ‘Us vs. Them’ theme; there are a lot of different motives at play all over the map. A lot of cultural clashes and fights about values here, some leading to understanding and some…not.
A fine line between epic with a capital E and something a bit more personal follows. On the one hand the cast is huge and it took me a while to reconnect the different names with their story lines. With the alternating PoV style it employed I didn’t see any single PoV a second time until around the hundred page mark. But once it got into its flow this ended up working well; it isn’t that the PoV cast is exceptionally large, rather we get to spend enough time with each character to actually get to know them. While the background cast is huge and at times intimidating the main characters become as familiar as a person can want.
For a book with a big old war in the background of everything that is going on this is surprisingly rarely a war novel; another way it differs from the major titles I would want to compare it to. Instead it is a nice blend of political maneuverings, double dealings, relationship building, and even the boredom of a long march. Magic and its affects make the world a bit more manageable but we are still dealing with a sprawling map with events taking place all over it. Hair plays it right; interweaving some stories with others until they all connect but without forcing improbable coincidences to force the cast into one place.
Complaints are few. It is a very familiar tale though the setting shows that to be by design. No character is one of a kind or even all that memorable; some of that comes from each of them being fairly realistic (in a magic using fantasy kind of way) without the over-the-top caricatures we almost expect from our epic fantasy any more. And on a personal front I find that no matter how good the story is reading seven hundred page bricks turns into a struggle after a while.
The series has been a slow burn so far but some pay off is coming. Obviously this is a series with a plan in place and it will take a war to settle it. A possible hero of the ages has been introduced but I genuinely like the character so I am willing to wait it out. And while Hair hasn’t thrown too many curves at us yet I remain hopeful that the next book is just as compelling as this one. For if it is, watch out, this could turn into a must read series in a hurry.
Big thanks to Mogsy for gifting me a copy of this book that promptly sat on my shelf for half the year.