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Kings of the North
by Elizabeth Moon
Del Rey, 2011, $26.00, 478pp
Release Date: March 22, 2011

When an author returns to a trilogy after an absence of 20 years and extends it, there is invariably a shift; the author herself has changed, hence, so does the story-telling. Moon’s style of writing is less romantic in tone, less Tolkienesque, more pragmatic, even as she describes wonders and terrors, magic, necromancy, elves and daskdraudigs.

Kings of the North is the latest in the epic Deed of Paksenarrion continuum. The focus has shifted away from Paksenarrion herself to the men she made kings: Kieri and Mikeli. Paks still shows up, but she is very much on the sidelines, at least for now.

Kieri is under pressure to re-marry and provide heirs to the kingdom, preferably heirs who will strengthen the elven-mortal ties and be able to wield magic. He is reluctant to make a merely political alliance, especially when adjacent kings are sending their young daughters as either hostages or assassins. Furthermore, he is distracted by warning messages from family ghosts, and by the incomprehensible, erratic behavior of his elven grandmother who is the co-ruler of the kingdom. Most problematic of all, how could he, a half-elf who can expect to live for centuries but not live the millennia elves enjoy, impose or endure the burden of age-discrepancy upon a wife? A mortal young enough to bear children would be a mere child in his eyes; and the elven maids who show an interest are … old enough to be his mother. Heck, they all remember his mother. And honestly, he has more pressing concerns, like protecting the kingdom from invasion.

Mikeli has his own hornets’ nest to deal with. Legacies of dark magic need to be eradicated, borders are being harried by an ambitious former ally, and counterfeit currencies are being introduced by that same troublesome pirate. Fortunately, he has the help of Dorrin, the new Duke Verrakai.

One of the most interesting story threads concerns Arvid, who knows enough of the skill set of the Thieves’ Guild to listen in on the conversations of dwarves and gnomes, and to attempt to thwart the robbery of a precious artifact.

This is an intriguing, well-written, tightly woven chapter in the lives of sympathetic, wonderful characters. If you haven’t discovered this remarkable series yet, I strongly recommend it. ~~ Chris Paige

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