The Burning Stone (1999) is the third volume in the series and picks up the storyline after the events at the Battle of Gent. The quasi-self-contained storylines of the first two novels are abandoned here in favour of a more serialised approach as Elliott kicks in the central story arc of the whole series. The reader gains an understanding of the stakes and the true nature of the threat to Novaria, but Elliott presents us with several different viewpoints of the same events and it's unclear which is the true explanation. As I mentioned earlier, enjoyment of the first two novels is marred by the weakness of the character of Liath, but in this third volume she becomes more interesting as she is confronted by the apparent truth of her upbringing and birth. Elsewhere, political intrigue gathers pace and the Eika gain a new chieftain. The Eika plotline is extremely well-handled in this series and it's a shame it isn't given more airtime, but at a thousand pages in paperback this is already a long novel that doesn't really need to be any longer.
The Burning Stone (***½) is an important step forward in the series, delineating the main threats and clarifying what the central plot arc of the series actually is. However, the lack of a rigorous central narrative and the increasingly sprawling cast of characters and secondary plotlines does undermine some of the benefits of the stronger storytelling in this volume. The book is available from DAW in the USA and Orbit in the UK.
Child of Flame (2000) is an intriguing addition to the Crown of Stars series. As the middle volume of the series, it would have been easy for this to be a slower-paced book full of setting up and limited plot resolution. Instead Elliott pulls off some interesting writing decisions which allows her to delve deeper into the mysteries at the heart of the series whilst pushing forward the action decisively. There are huge battles, several key storylines are closed off and the destinies of Alain and Liath (who has a lot less screen-time than in previous volumes) take them to some very strange places.
Child of Flame (****) is the strongest novel of the first four in the series, featuring some unexpected plot developments and forcing some serious reconsidering of what came before.
The Gathering Storm (2003) was originally supposed to be the penultimate volume of the series, but the final book was split in half due to its size. As such, the reader may be taken aback that the major climax of the series comes two volumes before its conclusion. The purpose of this novel is to take all of the developments of the past two volumes (and some from before that) and tie them all together into a massive convergence of plotlines, characters and events. This works very well, and the purposes of secondary storylines and characters who previously didn't seem to be contributing much to the overriding narrative is made clearer, sometimes surprisingly so. Again, the Eika storyline (now revealed to be much more closely tied to the central narrative than previously thought) is very strong in this novel, although some of the key characters do get a little lost in the middle of the book (Sanglant in particular, who has major roles in the opening and closing chapters but is otherwise off-stage for a significant chunk of the novel). There's also some curious and slightly baffling plot decisions which at first glance don't seem to make much sense, particularly a number of coincidences and happenstances in Alain's storyline that verge on the ludicrous. That said, it's certainly a relief that the major events foreseen and talked about (at times interminably) for the last several volumes finally come to pass in an explosive and apocalyptic finale.
The Gathering Storm (***½
)is a highly significant step forward in the series and Elliott handles the major sweeping events of the book quite well, although a number of weaknesses in the plotting detract from the enjoyment of the book. As the novel concludes the reader is left feeling slightly dazed and asking, "Now what?"
The final two volumes in the series are In the Ruins and Crown of Stars, which I hope to have finished next week.