Aralorn: Masques and Wolfbsane by Patricia Briggs

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Aralorn: Masques and Wolfbsane by Patricia Briggs

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: With an early work and a more recent success, this pair of Briggs novels in the same universe of magic shows the fantasy writer improve to where she is now – one of the more noted examples on the shelves.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 608 Date: October 2012
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 9780356501642

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Here is what seems quite a rum Patricia Briggs compendium – her first attempt at a fantasy novel, published and read by roughly six men and an orc back in the early 1990s, and what would appear the fourth book in the same series, dusted off after they both got a rewrite in 2010, and together at last for the curious completist. And if the rewriting ironed out a few creases it shows just how much there was needed done – for the first book is still full of minor problems – a man immune to, or invisible to, magic unless when it's needed for the plot, a host of exposition all throughout, and much that marks it down as a debut effort. It doesn't mean it's not worth reading however.

After we meet Aralorn in a prologue, where she gains an unlikely friend in the shape of a wolf, we see her at work, spying on the Archmage. There are two types of magic in this universe – a more feminine, earthy, green one such as hers, that allows her to shapeshift, and a more masculine wizardry – and the Archmage is supposed to be an impartial, non-practising leader of those with that power. However she immediately sees he is not as hands-off or neutral, and when she reports back finds out just how pernicious his power has become. It immediately becomes clear it is down to Aralorn herself, her war-horse, her wolf and a few people immune to magic to stop this global threat.

The second novel, written, as Briggs would have it, once she knew how to [write] the book I wanted to write, as opposed to only attempting what she could dream of, shows just how far she developed. It's not because characters and scenario are familiar that this is a much easier, more fluid yet entertainingly complex read. The exposition is a lot lighter, and while this is more or less a direct sequel it does not serve as a perfect stand-alone, making this book a nice pairing. Here Aralorn and Wolf return to her childhood home upon news of the death of her father, and find themselves embroiled in a kind of fantasy murder mystery. A third – black – kind of magic joins the world but this very much carries on the premise of what went before, with everything ramped up to a better state. The characters and what happens to them all touch on Briggs' writing fantasy with a female audience in mind, but this is a lot straighter and masculine than her Mercy Thompson books, and would satisfy all to some extent with its interesting and superior elements.

Something below four stars for the first half, something above four stars for the second and the gift of them both within the same covers.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For a very different look at a fantasy with a woman alone but for an unusual animal, we'd suggest you try Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff.

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