The second book in the Landover series starts out (after a brief prologue) with our cast of characters sitting around at breakfast talking about dreams. Don't worry, this is indeed a fantasy adventure novel and not some Freudian Interpretation of Dreams textbook. However, there is a lot of psychological exploration of character and motivation that happens in this book. In fact, that's one of the elements of Brooks's writing that I often enjoy…the internal conflict that many of the characters go through as they try to sort out their own identity and/or motivations.
In this book, we get into the semi-standard "quest" formula often found in fantasy and commonly used in Brooks's books. A series of dreams have suggested individual quests for three of our main characters. Ben needs to return to his non-magical hometown of Chicago to help his old friend who is in danger. Questor (the eccentric and comical wizard) has been shown the location of the secret lost books of magic which he must set out to recover. And Willow (the beautiful sylph who has fallen in love with Ben) has been prompted to seek out the mystical Black Unicorn, find a magical golden bridal that can capture it, and return to Ben.
As each member of the party sets off on their individual quests, it quickly becomes apparent that the dreams were not as straightforward as they appeared. Most of the action follows Ben but we are given occasional chapters that keep us up to date with the other characters. Ben's return to Earth and his subsequent return to Landover unlocks a series of events that lead to his downfall from power and recognition as King of Landover. The result is his exile from his own castle and a new quest to find Willow (who still hasn't returned from her quest) and seek to protect her and to somehow solve his own problems along the way.
The adventure aspect of this book is engaging enough. There are a couple of rather exciting and intense scenes (such as when Ben is with the River Master who is trying to summon the Black Unicorn…or the later confrontation between the witch Nightshade and the powerful dragon Strabo) but a lot of the novel involved inner monologue or strings of dialog in which Ben tries to unravel the mystery of his downfall.
Ben's narrative explores the psychological question of "Who am I?" and "What's my motivation/passion/purpose?" Ben has "lost himself" in more ways than one. The questions and thoughts explored in the book are intriguing and thought provoking, but they dragged on a little too long, in my opinion. Page after page we wander along with Ben as he tries to find answers to these questions. He gains a magical companion in Dirk, the mystical prism cat who poses thought provoking questions and enigmatic explanations.
After a short time, I was so frustrated with Ben that I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him to just "snap out of it"…tell him that the answer was so very obvious and he was an idiot for not seeing it and for asking the same stupid questions over and over without making any progress. This to me was a major disconnect. Ben is supposed to be a very bright lawyer with a quick mind for problem solving and evaluating the situations. I will gladly admit that it's generally harder to see something clearly that's right in front of you…easier to solve someone else's problems than your own. But truly, Ben should have been able to figure things out by halfway through his journey rather than at the last possible moment for salvation. Even if he wasn't fully able to unlock the magic spell that held him bound, he should have at least been able to see the nature of the problem.
Apart from that character disconnect, I liked the general message of the psychological exploration. That we need to admit our own passions if we ever hope to achieve them…that the truth we see and understand may not be the real truth and that we should be willing to pull back the layers of illusion to better understand ourselves, others and the world.
I felt like the story was fun and the characters developed a bit more than they had in the first novel. It still isn't an overly deep series with spanning epic proportions, but then it doesn't set out to be. This is another entertaining read.
3 out of 5 stars
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