Having been sucked into Dickson’s world of anthropomorphic animal characters in her first novel, I was eager to return for the sequel. To put it lightly, I had not enjoyed a fantasy novel in a long time as much as Year of the Tiger. In it, I was taken into a fantasy world that discards the overused European mythology for a blend of Chinese, Indian, and Japanese myths that unite to form the culture of Dickson’s world. In the first novel the characters were introduced and were appealing and interesting enough to follow halfway around the world in their quest to unravel the mystery of their fallen Seers. Dickson’s talent is her character’s appeal, the way her motley crew of different personalities interacts like a dysfunctional family.
The new novel digs deeper, exposing the frailties of the characters. Their individual histories are expounded upon, revealing secrets that the others are unprepared for. I particularly found myself captivated by the relationship between the noble and rigid Kirin and the mysterious and deadly Sherah. Of all the characters, the seductive cheetah and honor-bound lion have the least in common, and the way that they interact is strangely compelling and saddening.
But then the entire story is driven by relationships. The yin/yang between the lion brothers, the dance of attraction between Ursa and Sireth as well as Fallon and Kerris. Each character is wonderfully flawed, and their flaws quickly wear on each other as the journey progresses. (with the exception of Fallon, who is the only character in the story that doesn’t quite work in my opinion. Too young to be a true Scholar, and her speech patterns clash with the way that everyone else in the story talks.)
In a way, the actual mission is the backdrop to a study of characters. By the time the novel draws to a startlingly brutal and dramatic conclusion, the mystery of the Ancestors is second fiddle to the culmination of how the characters try to salvage the relationships that they have so severely damaged on the way.
Speaking of damage, events in the climax definitely took me by surprise. Dickson is not afraid to subject her characters to the cruelest of consequences, and the emotional impact is staggering. Just because feline characters are prominent does not make this a story for children. I haven’t been this stunned by deadly turn of events since reading a certain other fantasy series that will go unnamed.
Bottom line: Read the first book in the series. By the time you get to this one, you will no doubt be as drawn into this world as I am. Dickson creates a unique world of captivation characters that you will be grateful to journey with. Five out of five stars.
Purchased for my Kindle at Amazon