The High King’s Vengeance by Steven Poore
Please note – The High King’s Vengeance is a direct sequel to The Heir of the North. I’d advise, if you haven’t already, you should read that first. If you don’t then it is highly likely that this review may contain something akin to spoilers. Consider yourself suitably warned.
“I am the Heir to the North.”
Malessar’s Curse is broken, the wards around Caenthell destroyed. The Warlock himself lies, exhausted and gravely wounded, in the rubble of his own house. And while the dire spirits trapped behind the wards for centuries are unleashed into the world once more, Cassia is confined to a cell deep in Galliarca’s grand palace.
Yet Caenthell calls to her, and Cassia must answer. As Heir to the North, the throne and the power behind it belong to her. But the twisted hunger of Caenthell’s spirits appals her and Cassia vows to do everything she can to defeat them.
Now, Cassia must convince both Galliarca and Hellea that they have to stand against the resurrected High King of Caenthell. She must raise an army from nothing, make uncertain alliances with princes and dragons, and fight her way into the heart of the North. And, if she is lucky, someone may live to tell her tale.
Back in 2015 I read The Heir to the North, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Steven Poore did a grand job of reinvigorating my interest in epic fantasy. I’ve been waiting patiently for the second half of Cassia’s story and I’m glad to report that it has finally arrived.
I think the thing I enjoyed most in this book is the continuing evolution of Cassia’s character. There is a wonderful moment of self-realisation where she concludes she is no longer the storyteller, she has become the story. That’s the great thing about The High King’s Vengeance and its predecessor. This is more than just your standard by-the-numbers fantasy tale. With this story, Steven Poore gets the opportunity to explore the building blocks of epic fantasy. Cassia has been thrust into a role that means her actions will determine the fate of nations. I’d imagine anyone would be changed by that level of responsibility. Entire countries are going to be affected by the course of events and the choices a single person is forced to make. This isn’t just a book about battles between huge armies, this is as much about the internal conflict that exists within Cassia herself.
The good news is that she is not alone. Cassia’s ability as a master storyteller inspires many as she travels from town to town, from city to city. She is quickly joined by others who are moved by her eloquence. From the southern state of Galliarca, a prince called Rais is initially sceptical but soon finds himself won over by our heroine. The further Cassia travels, the more she uncovers about the huge scope of the plans that are unfolding. Generations have been involved in the schemes she finds herself part of. Some of the individuals who have been played for fools in the past are still around, and more than keen to right their mistakes. I do so enjoy grizzled warriors looking for a glorious death by futile gesture.
Human soldiers aren’t going to be enough to stop the forces of darkness, so Cassia raises a group of magical guardians to join her army. How best to describe them? Stoic? Determined? Singular of purpose? Let’s just say they have a distinctly Ray Harryhausen-esque quality (that’s how I pictured them anyway) that made me smile. Trust me, you’ll understand that comment better once you’ve read the book.
The final desperate race to defeat the High King is stirring stuff. Cassia knows that not all of her companions will survive, but she also knows that she needs them all if she has any hope of succeeding. There are some wonderfully bittersweet moments in the final chapters. The is also a short epilogue that acts as a perfect coda to the entire piece. I’ll avoid spoilers, but suffice to say, it was exactly the sort of ending I had hoped for.
Viewed on its own, The High King’s Vengeance is a well-executed epic fantasy that is bound to please many a genre fan. As the second part of a much larger story, it is something far better. Seeds that were sown way back at the beginning of the first book suddenly become relevant, and there are a host of splendidly brain-melting revelations.
I get the distinct impression that though Cassia’s story has drawn to a close, there are other tales of Caenthell, Hellea and Galliarca still to be told. I do hope so, I’d be more than happy to read them.
As an aside, if you find yourself at Fantasycon at the Grand Hotel in Scarborough on Friday 23rd September, say at around 5pm, I would suggest you venture over to the cocktail bar. There, you’ll find the author of both books and you can ask him many probing and insightful questions as part of the launch for The High King’s Vengeance. Tell him The Eloquent Page sent you.
The High King’s Vengeance is published by Kristell Ink, the fantasy and science fiction imprint of Grimbold Books, and is available now.