Tom Lloyd’s The Twilight Herald is the second book of the Twilight Reign series following Stormcaller. Isak, now lord of the Farlan must come to grips with his new role as king and ruler of his people. Meanwhile, in the city of Scree, a dark spell is being woven that threatens to consume it and its populace. That same spell is drawing powerful people towards a huge convergence introducing a slew of new characters and new ideas to the world of Twilight Reign.
The expansion of the cast and the shift from the more character-driven tightly focused Stormcaller to the broader more epic approach seen in The Twilight Herald has mixed results. On the one hand it lends itself towards one heck of a wild ride, with action, excitement, danger, violence and epic confrontations occurring left and right. On the other hand the broader focus and new characters mean less of a focus on the well-developed and interesting personalities seen in the previous volume.
It is that last I expect that rankled me the most. Isak, Tila, Vesna, Mihn and King Ermin were such a blast to read during the last half of Stormcaller that to see them used rather sparingly here is a bit of a let down. Our chance to see the crew from the frist book interact together, which to me is where a shame since Lloyd has these characters absolutely down. I was particularly intrigued by the former Harlequinn, Mihn in the previous book and had hoped to learn more about him here. Unfortunately, Mihn disappears for most the book; sent on a rescue mission by Isak.
Lloyd does see fit to tantalize us with a little but of Mihn action as we do get a chapter at the tail end of the rescue mission. The single chapter made for an entertaining and rather humorous reading, as the back and forth dialog with Mihn and his companions was rock solid, but it ended all to quickly. I would have loved to see a longer section detailing Mihn’s adventure on the rescue mission since what I did read was entertaining. We know so little about Mihn that seeing how he operated when not around Isak was a treat, even if it was only the barest glimpse, and I definitely want to see more.
Over near the waste we get to see more of the nearly unstoppable Styrax as he continues to finalize his conquest. We do in fact get some fantastic battle scenes with the Menin lord including one truly epic fight versus a Balrog demon prince. A huge chunk of the novel follows Zhia Vukotic in the city of Scree. We first met Zhia towards the end of Stormcaller but we never got an accurate picture what she was really after. Come to think of it, we don’t really get to here either. Despite all her scheming and plotting I don’t recall every being quite certain of her motivations. Unless of course I’m just a slow reader. Regardless, I found here interactions with other characters entertaining colored with enough regal superiority and manipulation to make any fan of political intrigue happy. Zhia, as more or less a vampire princess, is a capable character and Lloyd doe an excellent job portraying the juxtaposition between here inhumanity and her very human desires.
More so than Stormcaller, The Twilight Herald, throws the constraints of time out the window in favor of advancing the plot of the novel and keeping the action fast and furious. With very little set-up or time to settle in to his position as lord of the Farlan we suddenly jump to Isak masquerading as a mercenary in Scree. From there events go, for lack of a better term, bat-shit insane. Similar to the end of Erikson’s latest book and Esslemont’s Return of the Crimson Guard the final section of the novel a huge multi-pov set piece battle that rages across the city of Scree with occaisonal pauses for exposition and breathing. It is a fairly ambitious section that I frequently found difficult to follow. Whether that is authorial intent or a weakness of Lloyd’s I can’t say for sure thanks in part to the frequent intances of awesome that occur throughout this section. I just have to say that Isak has some the greatest “oops, that wasn’t exactly the spell I was trying to cast” moments ever.
The Twilight Herald does a lot to advance the plot and flesh out the world of the Twilight Reign series. In genre where convention often requires the path the plot is going to take be mapped out well in advance, thanks to our friend prophecy, Lloyd has been able to remain astonishingly aloof. The central prophecy of the book regarding a “saviour” seems to have been averted multiple times already and, if I’m reading this right, the prophecy is shaping to be something far from what everyone expects. While I enjoyed the characterization of familiar faces a bit less in The Twilight Herald the shift to a more epic scale certainly added a lot to the world. On the other hand the confluence of power that features prominently in the novel is never fully explained and the divergent plot lines (in particular the bits with Styrax, as enjoyable as the were, didn’t really gel with the rest of the novel) didn’t quite come together as neatly as I’d like. I’m not certain I would say The Twilight Herald is an improvement over Stormcaller but Lloyd at the least reveals an impressive level of verstatility in terms of style between the two novels. Furthermore he maintains an ability to include a subtle over-arching theme of revenge across the entirety of the novel that is never overwrought or glaring. Lloyd is keeping me guessing with the series and, criticisms asside, that is something I can definatley appreciate.