Readers of The Forging of the Sword, beware ye of spoilers...
Thanks to Calvyn, the Terachite hordes have been defeated, just as they seemed to be on the verge of taking the Thrandorian capital of Mantor. His bravery in taking on Demarr is noted (well, since the fight involved a flaming sword and a magical amulet, it was hard not to notice). Calvyn, along with Bek, is promoted to Corporal. True enough, these promotions are forced by the deaths of the previous incumbents, but Calvyn and Bek have deserved them.
Yet a successful army is borne from iron discipline, and Calvyn still has something of a contrary nature. Calvyn insists on defending the defeated Demarr, when Demarr has no will to speak for himself (so shamed is he of the devastation that he has caused). Calvyn's victory was derived from his secret practice of magic, an art forbidden in Thrandor since the days of Derrigan Darkweaver, but even he risks punishment by branding his magical sword in the King's own court. However, the short time that Calvyn spent with Perdimonn, his mentor, seems to have affected him more deeply than he had realised. For now he must use rhetoric, rather than magic, to argue for the life of the man whose actions had brought about the deaths of his parents. Some higher, moral duty seems to be calling to Calvyn,: whether it be fate or providence, he can hardly tell. However, it would seem that fate is not on Thrandor's side, since Shandar, the Empire to the north, has decided to take advantage of Thrandor's weakness (reminiscent of Poland fifty years ago, or King Harold's fruitless war on two fronts). Not only are the Terachim hordes still a threat, but the Shandese have escalated things further by employing sorcery in their incursions. Both Demarr's previous arguments for rearmament and Calvyn's impassioned pleas for the legalisation of magic are fresh in Thrandor's court, so much so that the King does the unexpected, and gives Demarr his life, albeit impressed in Baron Keevan's army to fight the Shandese in the north.
Thus Calvyn's early experience of being a corporal is not wholly favourable, since Demarr has now literally become his responsibility. His sudden promotion also means an unwelcome distance from Jenna, although Calvyn never really seems to be able to articulate his feelings for her, much to Jenna's frustration. Back at Baron Keevan's castle, Jenna's anguish is accentuated by the presence of the stunning new recruit, Eloise, for whom all the corporals, including Calvyn, seem to have fallen. The only person who seems to know Jenna's secret is Demarr. Just as Jenna sums up the courage to reveal her feelings, Calvyn is lost in battle to the Shandese. Jenna's first thought is that they must go and rescue Calvyn, but she is dissuaded by the practical Sergeant Derra. Although Calvyn won the battle at Mantor, he is not important enough for Baron Keevan's army to mount such a mission, and besides, nobody has any ideas of where he might be. But before too long, Jenna has started hearing voices, and is hailed by weird visions and out of body experiences. It even distracts her from the use of her beloved new long bow, the reward for saving a merchant's life. Jenna feels compelled to obey the strange voice, to desert her fellows in order to go on a long quest. Her mind is made up when the voice tells her that Calvyn is in danger. But how to desert when every corporal is watching her like a hawk?
Calvyn finds that he has been captured by the Shandese sorcerors, the Lords of the Inner Eye. The runes that he has taught himself under the guidance of Perdimonn seem to have no affect in their court, and it's not long before his very soul, the spirit that fought for Demarr, is in peril... Although Jenna seems to have embarked on a separate quest, some kind of higher power does seem to be guiding her, for she is close to fulfilling the old hag's prophecy of becoming the Huntress. The Gorvath demon is her prey, but she must ensure that the roles are not reversed and that she becomes the hunted...
Mark Robson is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. Although Trail of the Huntress does contain a few typographical errors, such mistakes are not absent from the works produced by more established publishing companies. What is most compelling about Robson's work is the logical reasoning that guides us through a complex plot: there is a point for everything that happens here and scarcely a word is wasted. Robson is also adept at creating characters that leap from the pages with life. Calvyn is still the integral character, but his companions all have great roles to play in his quest. Calvyn's switch from morality to immorality is adeptly handled by Robson. The "shades of grey" speech provides a focal point for the novel and no doubt for the whole of The Darkweaver Legacy. Again, it seems that Mark Robson's own military experience may well be integral to the book, and he certainly shows that he is well capable of handling a long drawn-out campaign. For all the while that Thrandor is threatened by the Shandese, the mysterious Selkor has not quite vanished, and his remarkable resemblance to Derrigan Darkweaver does not bode well. So complex are Mark Robson's plots that it seems inevitable that he will have to compromise somewhere, and the exposition towards the end of the book does not seem wholly naturalistic, nor does the death speech of one of the major characters... But these are minor quibbles that do not detract from the book as a whole. Mark Robson's prose may be simple, but it is to his advantage that he avoids the florid prose that lesser minstrels might have employed. Such is the strength of the plot and that of the characters that you can't help but be compelled to find out what happens next. Like Jenna, you will find yourself embroiled in a quest, whether you'll like it or not - but you will like it. Thank goodnesss then that Mark Robson has avoided J. K. Rowling's block, for the next volume is out soon.
Authortrek Rating: 9/10
Kevin Patrick Mahoney