Thursday, August 11, 2011

Farsala Continued

Last week I reviewed the first book in Hilari Bell's Farsala Trilogy, Fall of a Kingdom. I didn't say this then but the reason I put off reading this trilogy for so long was the titles of the final two books, Rise of a Hero and Forging the Sword. Because how stereotypically fantasy are those two concepts? I am mentioning this in case any out there may have had similar thoughts, because those titles are actually very tongue in cheek and there is more to them than their words imply.
Rise of a Hero picks up where Fall of a Kingdom leaves off. Jiann is commanding an army of ragtag peasants. Soraya, after spending time with Suud people learning their magic, is determined to find her mother and brother. Kavi is risking his life traveling around the countryside gathering information and encouraging the people to resist. For if Farsala can fight the invading Hrum for one year they will earn their freedom. Giving hope and heart to the resistance is the legend of Sorahb, the ancient warrior Azura promised would be reborn at Farsala's greatest need. These final two books chronicle the battles, covert operations, conspiracies, and rising legend until the fate of Farsala is decided.

Okay, I am going to admit it. I did come to like Soraya. That was mostly due to the way Bell wrote her character arc. Normally, the humbled spoiled princess bit doesn't play well with me but Soraya's change was a gradual one and very believable. Especially as she maintained many of her former characteristics, just with a softened edge. I did find another character to transfer my "see them pushed off a cliff/eaten by jackal" desire to. Jiann is the epitome of the honorable soldier. Too young and too inexperienced to be commanding an army he rises to the challenge brilliantly. Watching him count his losses and grieve over his dead even in victory is heartbreaking. There are many traits to admire about him but he is has a major weakness as he is consumed by anger and the need for revenge, most of which is generated by his own personal guilt. I really felt for him but also wanted to shake him. Kavi is the one who captured my heart and held it tight through this entire story. My devotion to him had me seriously irritated at Jiann and Soraya at some places. How recklessly brilliant Kavi truly is comes into full light as the story progresses. Seeing how his conscience and loyalties are torn and watching him suffer only makes him more endearing. How he survives it with his sarcastic wit and constant complaints makes him irresistible. I also came to love Patruis, one of the Hrum officers, lots.

The idea that there are good and evil, strong and weak, men on both sides of any conflict continues to be explored to the end. This is one of the main reasons I really enjoyed the trilogy. There are shades of grey all over the place. What is right and what is wrong is not always an easy thing to determine and the answers often are different depending on which side you stand. As well as this reality being present Bell also showed that there are some things that are just wrong and evil no matter who you are or where you are standing. I appreciated the balance of the two.

I also appreciated that there was no romantic element in the books. I like a good love story as much as anyone but there is a time and place for them and this wasn't the time or place in the lives of these young people for that. Not that the potential wasn't there between some of the characters but in the situations they were in that is all it could realistically be. Potential. Many times romantic scenarios are forced into books like this despite them not making sense for the characters and I'm really glad Bell didn't go that route.

The plot of both books is fast paced and exciting. I think they were a little longer than they might have needed to be. There were several scenes where plans were being made and strategies hammered out that seemed to go on forever. I really didn't feel like it was necessary to know every single thing said by every person. If you see the plan unfold you don't need to read the blow by blow of how it came to be. That is my only quibble with the books.

Finally, the legend of Sorahb that is placed throughout the books is a work of art. Every few chapters there are breaks where the legend is told the way it is centuries after the story takes place. It stands in stark contrast to the way events are actually unfolding and, at times, is downright hilarious. I  ♥ Kavi. He is a genius.

The Farsala Trilogy are YA books but easily enjoyed by any lover of this type of story no matter the age. There is nothing in them content wise that make them inaccessible for a younger reader. Any middle grade student who is looking for a more complex book would enjoy these.

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