What I’m Reading: Myth and Storm

Myth and Storm is the second book in the Guilds of Ilbrea series by Megan O’Russell. I read the first one, Inker and Crown, a couple months ago and liked it enough to return for the second volume. If you recall, the book was about the Karron clan, six natural and adopted children of Lord Karron who grew up together and have remained close now that they are in their late teens or early twenties and members of the various guilds in the city of Ilara, capital of Ilbrea. So let’s see what our Ilbrean guild friends are up to this time!

Now at the end of the last book, Inker and Crown (spoiler warnings ahead!), disaster had befallen all the members of the Karron clan. Second-in-command of the Scribes’ Guild, Adrial, had been caught by a mob of commoners upset at the arrogance of the guilds and beaten, saved only by the intervention of his secret commoner girlfriend, Ena. Niko, in the Map-Makers’ Guild, had gotten sucked into a cave by magic while on an expedition to map the rugged mountains east of Ilbrea. Similarly, map-maker Mara and soldier Tham have been sucked into a magic wall of ice while on a similar expedition to the frozen wastes north of Ilbrea. Sailor Kai has been caught in a dangerous storm while at sea. Finally, Allora, daughter of Lord Karron, devastated when she hears the news that her beloved Niko has been lost, has given up on true happiness and agreed to marry Ilbrea’s King Bannon, whom she does not love.

While in the first book, my favorite storyline was that of Adrial and his hidden romance with Ena, a most unusual young lady, my favorite this time around was that of lovers Mara and Tham. At the beginning of the book, all but four of the soldiers and map-makers on the expedition to the north have died in climbing accidents or avalanches. Even worse, in a strange ice cave, Mara has been sucked into an ice wall by a hand that reached out and grabbed her. In the days after, Tham refuses to give up coming after her, using a pick-ax to cut away at the ice wall until his fingers bleed. The two other survivors also take turns with the ax, but Tham just will not give up. Finally, he breaks through, and is immediately captured and imprisoned in a cell with Mara, who is thankfully alive and healthy.

Over the next days, Mara and Tham discover they are being held captive in a royal palace by Ronya, a princess who has taken pity on them. She is a member of the royal family of Isfol, an underground ice city. Ronya does not wish to keep Mara and Tham as prisoners, though she cannot let them leave the city, for being hidden is its best defense against outsiders. As Ronya comes to trust them, Mara and Tham gradually gain greater freedom to explore Isfol, which has all kinds of cool magic features and secrets, including one secret that will prove fateful for them. This part is really imaginative and an underground ice city is a setting I haven’t seen in a fantasy book before, or at least described in this way.

The romance of the lamed Scribe chief Adrial and Ena, a commoner who produces nearly magical inks out of rare flowers and things, remains compelling as well, if not quite as much as in the first book. The story arc with Kai–who has been shipwrecked after the sorcerer on board his ship, testing out a new magic sail and arrogant enough to think it would hold even in a fierce storm, led to the ship’s demise–is fun enough. Especially as fellow survivor, Drew, and he conclude that taking another ship back may lead to its being sunk as well by the sorcerers’ guild when it reaches Ilara to cover up the sorcerer’s failure. Thus, they wind up taking a mountainous route back to Ilara, far from the sea they prefer, and being a led by a mysterious woman who may know far more about the route than she lets on.

The story arc I liked least was Allora’s. As she prepares for the wedding with the king, there’s a not a whole for her to do but mope and chafe at the demands of the wedding preparations, even as she maintains a superficial cheer befitting the future queen. The story definitely picks up when the wedding is interrupted in a most dramatic way, though.

I described the writing style of the first book as buoyant, and I think that still holds. There’s a certain over-heated passionate tone that O’Russell maintains throughout the book. I mean, every love between two characters is presented as the greatest love ever, every separation of lovers the heaviest of burdens, every pain is agonizing, every trial insurmountable except by the greatest act of will. It can get to be a bit much, though I think teen readers will eat it up.

As in the first book, I also found the magic system to be not very well systematized. Magic things happen, and magic people can do them, that’s all. If there is an underlying logic to the magic, it’s nothing I could discern. Maybe that’s not a big deal, or germane to the story O’Russell wants to tell, but it’s something I noticed. And near the end, we find out that there may be a bit more to the magic than we realized before, so maybe more explanation is coming in the third book….

Still, overall, I enjoyed seeing the sympathetic characters again, and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll return for the third book, Viper and Steel. I would recommend this one to any readers who want a fantasy book full of big emotions and passions, and don’t mind if it’s a little breezy with the world-building.

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