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What I’m Reading: The Jalakh Bow

This time around I read the The Jalakh Bow, by Jamie Edmundson. This is the third book in the four-part Weapon Takers saga–I’ve also reviewed the first book in the series, Toric’s Dagger, and the second book, Bolivar’s Sword. I think it’s a good sign for the series that I’ve chosen to come back to it–it’s been gnawing at my mind a bit, which isn’t the case for some of the other fantasy series where I’ve recently reviewed the first book and never felt the need to return. At this point, I’ll almost definitely come back in a month or two for the final book.

Just to review, the weapons in question in the Weapon Takers Saga are seven mystical weapons, blessed by the gods, that date back to when the lands of Dalriya united to defeat the malevolent kingdom of Ishari. Unfortunately, the Ishari, under the leadership of Lord Erkendrix, who is possessed by an evil demon, were not totally destroyed then. Now, centuries later, the Ishari kingdom is again invading its neighbors with the goal of subjugating all of Dalriya.

The Jalakh Bow starts off a bit slow, as at the end of the last novel, the Isharian invasion of the rest of Dalriya came to a sudden halt when Belwynn, her brother Soren, and their friend Moneva managed to infiltrate Ishari and kill Erkendrix, setting off a civil war among the members of his council. As the book opens, Dalryia has enjoyed a few months of peace, but the Dalryian civil war is wrapping up and Erkendrix’s successor, the sorcerer Siavash, now possessed by the same powerful demon, is ready to resume the invasion. Soon, the Isharian armies are again on the march, aided by a special visitor from the demon’s home world: a dragon.

There are four main story arcs: the first covers Belwynn as she and the knights of Kalinth, whose swords she blesses and for whom she’s become a sort of good-luck charm, deal with a shadow sent by Siavash that is able to possess corpses, posing as the recently deceased. That allows the shadow access to the highest reaches of power in Kalinth, where it wages an assassination campaign, undermining the kingdom of Kalinth just as war is approaching.

The second arc follows the Krykker Rabigar as he evacuates the tribes of his people from their overrun land and sets out for the island of Halvia, where tribal cousins are waiting to take them in. Only the fleet carrying his people are attacked by the Kharovians, a pirate kingdom in league with the Isharians, and they have to fight their way free. What’s more, Halvia may be the location of one of the seven weapons, so Rabigar really needs to make it to shore.

The third arc is about Moneva, Gyrmund, and Soren, as they set off on a journey in search of one of the seven weapons: the Jalakh bow. The bow is hidden among the horse-riding, Mongol-like Jalakhs of the plains, who are having their annual festival where a new khan is chosen via a seven-day trial by combat. The Jalakhs our heroes come in contact with may be willing to help them get the bow, but only if they help the Jalakhs’ candidate for khan in his daily fight. I found this story arc the most clever and entertaining.

The final story arc concerns Clarin and a band of prisoners who’ve escaped from captivity in Ishari and now seek the Persaleian Shield, still another of the legendary weapons. Only what they find waiting for them in the occupied kingdom of Persala is not what they expect….

The Jalakh Bow has the same strengths and weaknesses as the previous books in the series. The several battles and fights are precisely described, easy-to-follow, and realistic. The overall political and and military situation in Dalryia is well thought out and a good engine for the story. And the adventures of the characters themselves are fun and compelling.

But, as previously, the dialogue is really lacking. It’s actually become a bit of a mystery to me, as Jamie Edmundson’s writing otherwise is pretty good. But nearly all the dialogue is no more than functional, with little to differentiate one character from another, or even one mood from another. The exception is a new character, Gunnhild, a giant woman (I mean, a real giant) with a ribald sense of humor. In contrast with all the flat dialogue around her, Gunnhild jumps off the page with her personality, despite taking up fairly little actual page space.

Still, all in all, The Jalakh Bow is a satisfying fantasy adventure of a world at war. I am looking forward to seeing how it wraps up in the fourth and final book, The Giants’ Spear (especially as the title seems to promise we’ll see more of Gunnhild).

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