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Book Review: Crown of Stars by Kate Elliott

Genre: Epic Fantasy
Author: Kate Elliott
Titles: King’s Dragon #1; Prince of Dogs #2; The Burning Stone #3; Child of Flame #4; The Gathering Storm #5; In the Ruins #6; Crown of Stars #7
Pub Date: First book February 1998, Last book January 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback, Average 500-700 pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)

Tonight I expect to finish reading Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars Series. An epic fantasy loosely based on our own medieval time period, its convoluted plot and subplots, myriad of important characters, and innovative take on elves have made it an enjoyable read.

The series takes the reader into a medieval setting turned on its head. Women rule, except in the case of kings, and are leaders in the church. God is both male and female, and women are seen as equal partners in all types of endeavors. It’s a truly egalitarian medieval period. Magic exists, although in many ways it is dependent on the laws of physics, astronomy, and astronomy’s distant cousin astrology. Magic is a science gained through knowledge and study, and limited to a very select few.

The story is primarily about the return of an elf-like race that, unlike the usual conceptions, was very warlike and evil (for the most part). These had been banished millennia ago by magic, but in a curious reaction (in physics, Newton’s third law of motion – For every action force there is an equal, but opposite, reaction force.) the land that was banished with the evil elves on it, must return. Liath and Sanglant, whose plot all others revolve around, were originally pawns in the war between humans and “The Lost Ones”, but have taken control of their own destinies and chosen paths opposite to the one others had originally intended for them.

Throughout the course of the series there are some principal characters whose subplots weave in and around each other and in so many different ways that at times it is difficult to remember which characters have met and which have not. Sanglant, Liath, Alain, Hanna, Anna, Ivar, Strongheart, and Antonia are the characters whose plots we follow most often. Additionally, at times we also follow Hugh, Secha, and others. Such a host of characters is sometimes difficult for the reader to keep straight. (In the last book of the series, there is a 5 or more page cast of characters.)

The complicated plots are the key problem in the series. The seven book saga gets so convoluted that at times it is difficult to keep it straight. Add into this that some names are reused occasionally by the author for different characters and the confusion can widen. The primary plot does follow Sanglant and Liath through their travels and travails, but these primary plots are constantly intersected by the many subplots. Elliott does an amazing job of keeping them straight for the reader, but as with anything this complex at times the reader can be lost.

The series is lovingly wrought, and fascinating to read. Courtly intrigue as well as the plight of the common man has its place. There are religious heresies and magical effects. This makes for a great epic, stunning in its scale and complexity.

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