Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Bard Reviews: Songs In the Year of the Cat by H. Leighton Dickson

Having read the first two installments of H. Leighton Dickson’s captivating series, I was rewarded by having the experience of the third being published just when I finished the second. How often does that happen? I was able to leap directly from the end of the gripping second novel into the third, which picks up exactly where the last one left off.

I’ve already heaped praise on Dickson’s writing in my first two reviews, and that excellence doesn’t change here. Dickson is outstanding on presenting her world of combined elements of China, India, and Japan, but her character building is even stronger, and ties the story together. The characters reunite after the last books dramatic ending to try to unite the kingdom against the coming of the Ancestors. In order to do that, everyone must commit to peace.

That includes Dogs.

I can’t say much without spoilers from the last story, but if you’ve read the previous book then you’ll understand how improbable that plan of action is. Kirin, now the Shogun General of the Upper Kingdom, must try to make peace with the savage people he has every reason to hate, not to mention Ursa, Sireth, and the others.

But diplomacy and honor must take precedence, particularly in the face of the coming threat, as we see through flashbacks from Kerris and Fallon’s time spend overseas in the land of the Ancestors. Let’s just say that humanity is as prejudiced and oppressive as ever. In the Upper Kingdom, cats are joined by monkeys to form a powerful army that will face the wild throngs of Dogs that have formed their own army under a powerful Khan who is much more concerned with war than peace. In the middle of the conflict are a Dog Seer and her brother, and of course Sherah, the mysterious Alchemist who might hold the answer to the riddle of peace.

Once again, Dickson steers the reader along a journey with characters that serve a purpose, whose motivations and personalities alter and adapt to their ever-changing circumstances. This book is larger in scope, so some characters are regretfully limited in their impact. I was particularly interested in the monkeys, as their race wasn’t introduced in the first two novels. Unfortunately they didn’t get much exposure in this novel and I wasn’t sure quite how to picture them. Hopefully a future installment will expound. But as a whole the writing was satisfying as ever, and a solid resolution to a three-part act. The ending leaves room for future installments, which I will definitely look forward to. H. Leighton Dickson is now high on my list of favorite authors.

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