What is it about Jeff Wheeler stories? They’re sort of like watching episodes in a favorite fantasy TV series in which each episode is a standalone with different characters, but they’re all set in the same fantastical setting. They all feel about the same, and while all the characters are believable, they’re also interchangeable. There isn’t anything particularly memorable about any of them… they all just feel like “me,” in some strange way (at least the “me” in my own head). They’re all the “straight man” as opposed to the caricature; ordinary people who react to extraordinary circumstances. I think I read recently that the more fantastical your world and setting, the more “ordinary” your characters needed to be in order to avoid detracting from the story itself. At any rate, it somehow works. I haven’t any idea the chronology from one series to the next, but it doesn’t matter.
This story follows Aylin (spelling? I listened to the audio version), a “wretched,” or an orphan, who is a servant at the Abbey. In this, like in one of his other series, Aylin is gifted with the Medium despite being a wretched. She is conscripted by the Aldermaston to extract information from a Druid whom they consider to be a heretic, to find the location of his lost magical tome, and warned at the beginning of her service that he’s likely to confuse her and make her believe that he is good while the Aldermaston is evil. From the way the narrator reads the voice, as well as his figures of speech, I think the Druid is going to turn out to be the same character who is essentially Merlin in other books.
Of course (and I don’t even feel like this needs a spoiler alert as it’s obvious from the beginning), Aylin ends up siding with the Druid, and believing that it is indeed the Maston order, headed by the Aldermaston, that has become corrupted. It isn’t until the end of the story that the Druid trusts her with the location of the tome (he is still held captive himself). As she journeys to find it, she is pursued by those who are good but misguided, and who believe that she has betrayed them all.
One of the things that I love about Wheeler stories is the fact that they are all so inherently spiritual. His “Medium” (and in other series, “Fountain”) are basically God, and in this story, the Mastons are like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. The Druid is “one of the original twelve,” which I assume alludes to the twelve apostles (except again, different world). Biblical stories are alluded to and specific biblical passages are quoted explicitly, but referenced as coming from “the tomes.” And there’s always a mentor figure who imparts spiritual and moral truth to the main character, which translates well to our experiences of our own world. The stories are just so rich and multifaceted–more than just entertaining.
My rating: *****
Sexual content: none
Violence: fantasy only
Woke content: none