The Gathering Storm by Kate Elliott (Crown of Stars: Book 5)

The fifth volume in the ‘Crown of Stars’ saga, The Gathering Storm, has been a long time coming (duly noted by the apologetic author) but the delay has been worth it. We find ourselves trailing two Eagles, Hanna and Hathui, the former riding to join Sanglant and Sapientia who have gone to Jinn trailing Bulkezu as their prisoner, the latter heading towards King Henry who has been possessed, the Skopos and the insidious Hugh. Amongst this the small fervent band of ‘heretics’, numbering Sigfrid, Ivar and the beautiful Baldwin amongst them end up at the monastery where Alain is desperately attempting to forget who he is and seek peaceful obscurity.

It is 733, Prince Bayan and Margrave Judith are dead, Prince Ekkhard has now married the new Margrave and all of Novaria is under constant siege and assailment from all sides. King Henry steps ever closer towards becoming Emperor, attempting to achieve the glory of Taillafer, but is becoming increasingly controlled, suspicious and removed from his subjects as he seeks to unite Varre and Wendar. We focus on events as Ivar and company struggle to understand where they lost three years, watch as Hanna rescues Ivar’s half-sister, Rosvita, and flees with Sister Obligatia away from Hugh.

The bulk of the novel is given over to Sanglant’s ‘taming’ of the griffin, Bulkezu’s death (surprisingly casually handled given the import ascribed to him early on), Liath’s return and their subsequent use of the Crowns to race west to confront Anne who is using Henry’s army to conquer all lands that possess what are in fact, henges in order to recreate the cataclysm and allow the Cursed Ones back into the world. Several sub-plots weave their separate paths: Alain and the Skrolin, Brother Zacharias and his dicspla as a mathematica, Hanna and Sister Rosvita, the love triangle of Anna, Thiemo and Matto and many more besides, all the time shadowed by the revolutionary Eika, Stronghand who has conquered Alba and Presbyter Hugh whose insidious perfidy threatens far more than initially thought…

The early focus leans much towards the reconciliation of perceived ‘heresy’, Elliott choosing to introduce the age old dilemma that widespread use of science can only reduce the spiritual power of the church and this latest installment moving more and more towards a religious commentary where inevitable parallels are intimated. Making heavy use of ‘portals’ to get around with inconsistent time serves to speed up the action considerably as we track the momentous events that lead us towards the final volume. Elliot’s series is, perhaps, not quite on a technical par with Jordan, or even Goodkind, but the depth of imagination rivals Donaldson. The unfortunate point is that the complexity of character and plot and the length of time it has taken Elliott to produce this fifth novel means that, to get the very best out of it, you need to reread the preceding novel, otherwise names and places and plots become faintly vague and difficult to recollect. Nevertheless, this is another excellent installment and a must for any fan of the genre.

9/10 Has been a long time coming but the delay has been worth it.

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