Length: 301 pages, standard paperback page size/font
Up next for this series is the book focused on Nature. This was originally the end of the series, before its success lead to Anthony writing another three books, and it shows, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's dive right in.
I'd joked a few times in the previous reviews that everything of importance that happens in this series revolves around the Kaftan family, and that gets taken to its logical conclusion here with Orb Kaftan being the protagonist. Unlike with the presentation of Niobe as the protagonist in With a Tangled Skein, it seems like Anthony didn't even try to write Orb as a capable and competent person. I'm not sure how much of her weak and petulant nature was intentional (probably some, given that she was a temperamental brat in With a Tangled Skein and a Shrinking Violet in Wielding a Red Sword), but she's pretty much an immature brat from start to finish.
Granted, it's kind of understandable, given how spoiled she is. The book starts out with her nearly drowning because, as a kid, she'd wandered off into some wilderness in search of a song and ended up trying to play with water sprites despite being unable to swim (which she was fully aware of since she mentioned it explicitly), and when her father shows up to save her, rather than being upset with her for acting so stupidly, he's happy that she'd shown a sign of having his hereditary musical magic. When she heads out on her own in pursuit of the ultimate song, she's given so many magical items by her family that it's less of an exciting journey of discovery and more of a rich kid's pleasure cruise. Now sure, her trip takes a few years and involves heading all the way from Ireland to India in search of the origin of the Gypsies (where she thinks she'll find the ultimate song, because Gypsies are the musical masterminds of this setting), so I'm downplaying it a bit, but there's so little struggle along the way that it almost might as well have all been planned out. The toughest obstacle that she had to overcome was learning to speak Calo, which she accomplished in a matter of weeks while training a blind Gypsy girl to sing, and if I seem dismissive of that accomplishment, it's because the book treats it as being just as much of a footnote as I'm doing now.
Anyway, when she does reach India, there's some overlap with the early parts of Wielding a Red Sword. I think this was the first time in the series where earlier scenes were replayed in detail from another perspective, and it was something of a missed opportunity, because seeing it from Orb's perspective instead of from Mym's added nothing. Well, perhaps that's not entirely true. We do get to see that she was genuinely oblivious to having become pregnant shortly before Mym was taken away, so there's that. It's not much, but it's all the new content that we're going to get in that area.
Oh, also, it turns out that her kid is Orlene, the girl with the ghost marriage who Norton fell in love with in Bearing an Hourglass, because of course this series needs more Kaftan involvement.
Of course, the privileges of her life don't end just because Orb's an adult. When she goes to America to reunite with Luna, she gets set up in a band by Death himself, and with the help of her hereditary magic and the magic harp that Niobe helped her get in her childhood, they become the best damn band in the land, despite consisting of a harpist with a background in Irish and Gypsy folk music, a grunge trio of magical opiate addicts, and a gospel choir girl. Considering that the book repeatedly mentions that Orb's magic is the only reason why they're so good, it's best to just accept it and move on.
The book drags it out a bit longer, but ultimately, Orb starts to learn some snippets of the ultimate song, through which she's able to start assuming some of the magic of Nature. This attracts Satan's attention, and that's when the potential for significant plot spoilers becomes too overbearing for me to say much more.
I've been critical of the climactic conflicts in some of the earlier books of this series, but I'm not sure what to say about this one. On the one hand, it does feel pretty epic and impressive when it's actually going on. On the other hand, the resolution of it is so dumb (in a nutshell, Orb says that she really wants what she wants, and others fix the problem for her) that it's hard to take it seriously in retrospect. The funny thing about it is that the way it plays out is actually rather similar to how the climax went in Wielding a Red Sword, except that Mym was active in being involved with what happened there, whereas Orb basically just cried for someone else to fix her mistakes here. That said, the way that the conclusion played out in this book was actually pretty clever and cool, so as a whole, it was a well-written ending, even if the path to get there left something to be desired.
All in all, despite my criticisms, it was a good book. I wouldn't have liked it as much on its own, but it was a nice capstone to tie together the rest of the series into a satisfying conclusion. In fact, that's part of why I'm hesitant about picking up the remainder of the extended series. It finished in a good spot, and I've seen too many cases of works turning for the worse when they get stretched beyond their natural ending points. Perhaps I'll look into them in the new year, but until then, I'd say that the series did end up being worth reading up to this point, despite getting off to a lackluster start.
Length: 301 pages, standard paperback page size/font