December 09, 2013

The Unmaking: The Last Days of Tian Di, Book Two

Written by Catherine Egan
Coteau Books
248 pp.
Ages 9+
September, 2013

Epic. That's what The Unmaking, Catherine Egan's sequel to Shade and Sorceress, the first book in her The Last Days of Tian Di series, is.  Epic. When I reviewed Shade and Sorceress (here) over a year ago, I knew that I was reading something special.  I compared it to Harry Potter.  The Unmaking is even stronger: in its writing, its plotting, its ability to snatch the reader away from reality and deliver him or her to a land of magic, curses, faeries, dragons, sorceresses, wizards, shape-shifters, and ordinary humans.  Hold on for a fantasy ride like no other.

When Shade and Sorceress ended, Eliza was still being schooled as the next Shang Sorceress by her grandfather Kyreth and the other Mancers at the Citadel.  Her mother, Rea, the former Shang Sorceress, has returned, without any memory, and lives with Eliza's father, Rok, with his people, the Sorma. And although Nia, the evil Xia Sorceress, got her hands on the Book of Barriers, she is still trapped in her Arctic prison. Or she was. Now she's out for revenge.

Not surprising that Nia seeks out the Triumvira, consisting of the Oracle of the Ancients, the King of Faeries and Swarn, the Warrior Witch, who had banished Nia to her prison. But her revenge also includes Kyreth, revealing her previously unknown relationship to the Supreme Mancer. (You'll need to read the book for that detail!)  Having been visiting first Swarn to learn of potions, forging weapons and deflecting barrier, and then the Oracle, Eliza returns to the Citadel to find the Mancers turned to stone and Nia releasing a hideous creature of her own Making (an Ancient power).  Nia's monster, created from the finger she sliced from Rea's hand, is a formidable foe, and Eliza must find a way of neutralizing it before it goes after her mother.

Sadly, Charlie, Eliza's Shade companion, is seriously injured and Nell, Eliza's human friend, enlists the help of the helicopter-flying police constable, Ander, to deliver him to the Cave of Healing.  In Tian Xia, they find the evidence of Nia's revenge: Swarn's house burning, slaughtered dragons, and the ruins of the temples of the Faithful.  They also make the acquaintance of a Faery, Jalo, who has been sent by the King of Faeries to retrieve the Oracle and Swarn to protect them from the Xia Sorceress.

But, Nia is already moving onto the Realm of the Faeries, intent on destroying Malferio, their King and her former consort. Because of the King's purges of his subjects and his dastardly deeds against others, including his current Queen, Nia is able to convince others to assist in overthrowing him.

It must be a faery illusion that Catherine Egan manages to squeeze a tale of such epic proportions into a mere 268 pages. My bare bones synopsis here doesn't even mention Eliza working with a wizard who is cursed to forget everything he knows every 29 minutes; the baby dragon that Nell is relentless about saving; Jalo's manipulative mother who worries about her son's interest in Nell; and Swarn's battle with Nia in the Hall of the Ancients.

The battle of good vs. evil may be the foundation of The Unmaking but there are so many layers of skirmishes and antagonisms as well as alliances and allegiances that enrich that theme, not the least of which is the question of who is bad or good.  As the story develops, beyond even those few layers, so too do the motives of the characters, transformed with new experiences and revelations.

There are not enough words to provide a complete review of Catherine Egan's The Unmaking.  When you enjoy it, you'll understand my failing here.  Epic is still the best descriptor.

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