Title: The Spider
Series: Under the Northern Sky # 2
Author: Leo Carew
Published: June 2019
This is the second book in a planned trilogy. This review will contain spoilers for book one. You can find my review of the first book in the series, The Wolf, HERE.
A battle has been won, but the war still wages on . . .
Roper, the Black Lord of the northern people, may have vanquished the Suthern army at the Battle of Harstathur. But the greatest threat to his people lies in the hands of more shadowy forces.
In the south, the disgraced Bellamus bides his time. Learning that the young Lord Roper is planning to invade the southern lands, Bellamus conspires with his Queen to unleash a weapon so deadly it could wipe out Roper’s people altogether.
And at a time when Roper needs his friends more than ever, treachery from within puts the lives of those he loves in mortal danger . . .
The first book in this planned trilogy, The Wolf, ends with a foreboding epilogue. The Spider, picking up just days after, begins with an equally foreshadowing prologue hinting at the disaster about to strike. With both epilogue and prologue in mind, it’s no surprise this story begins with a funeral.
As with the first book, The Spider, is set around three interwoven plots told through several characters point-of-view.
1. The continuous armed conflict between the Northen Black Kingdom, and the Southern Suthdal. This time, the Anakim from the Black Kingdom are the aggressors, invading Suthdal to rid themselves of their southern neighbors for good.
2. The intrigue within both the Black Kingdom and Suthdal. The end of the previous book saw the main protagonist, Roper, finally defeats his opponents and secure his position as Black Lord. However, some of the deals he made and promises he broke to do so are now backfiring. This results in a threat not only to himself and his immediate family but to the entire Kingdom as forces within his own ranks are conspiring with his enemies.
3. The intellectual and tactical battle between Roper and the southern Spymaster, Bellamus. In this book, the mutual fascination that emerged between these two men in the first novel continues to grow as they face off against each other. This time the arena is not the battlefield. Instead, this intellectual battle will play out on a chessboard, and the weapon of choice is cunning.
In an early scene, The Black Lord of the Anakim and his wife are engaged in a conversation. In it, Keturah tells Roper that, for all his qualities, he’s not a peacetime ruler. That he’s uninterested in the day to day running of the Kingdom and dismissive of the mundane but nonetheless vital tasks that have to be done.
She tells him his arena is the battlefield. That, by pure willpower, he can inspire men to perform incredible feats and accomplish victories in the face of overwhelming odds.
What he can’t do is run a Kingdom during peacetime.
It’s a brief conversation, but it stuck with me throughout the book; I feel it’s an apt description of Leo Carew as a storyteller.
Carew is an author that shines during the action-heavy scenes; he makes a battlefield come to life. You can scent the smoke in the air, feel the tacky remanence of blood coating your hands, and the claustrophobia set in as he transports you to narrow alleys crammed with soldiers fighting to stay alive as the arrows rain down on you.
Like his protagonist, he can whip a reader into a frenzy, and drive you forward; on more page, one more page let’s finish this battle! It’s now or never. But, just like Roper, he’s not at his best during peacetime; when the action halts, so does the intensity.
The Spider is an engaging story that I marathoned in two days. So, it’s fair to say that the narrative never becomes bland, but there is a definite slump. Obviously, you can’t have a story that’s always on edge and adrenaline-fueled but, even slow, descriptive parts need a flow, and I don’t quite feel it. The storytelling becomes more expository, less personal.
There’s no doubt that Carew is very good at writing action, tense situations and battle scenes, I wish some of that energy, the inspiration you feel flowing from the page during those moments would translate better into the less action-fueled parts of the book.
The Wolf had the same issue, but it was less apparent because so much of it centered around three significant battles. In contrast, much of this book has the characters dealing with sabotage, intrigue, and the obstacles Bellamus guerilla warfare is throwing at them, and it makes this shift in the writing more noticeable.
However, in comparison with The Wolf, this is a much better book in regards to characterization. The plot and pacing leave the character with more “downtime” between the intense moments. This gives them space to act and react towards one another as individuals. The characters are still somewhat superficial, but they have significantly more depth and personality than in the previous book.
One of my main issues with, The Wolf, was the portrayal of women, and while I still think it’s lacking, it’s much better; at least in regards to the Anakim culture.
The one downside is that some of that newfound depth falls a bit flat when it comes to the main protagonist.
The Spider is one of those books where I can’t decide if the parts I didn’t like is a result of the writing, or because I’m angry with the characters for being stupid; Roper is so f***ing stupid in this book!
Understand me right, he’s a good character, which makes some of his choices and decisions hard to swallow.
To be fair, I think one explanation could be that much of the intrigue is visible so early in the story. The epilogue of book one reveals the identity of the person scheming against Roper and to you, as a reader, it all feels so obvious. In turn, Roper, who’s usually so perceptive and intelligent, feels far to easily manipulated.
Again, I think some of this can be traced back to what I said at the beginning, Roper is a great character during tense or action-heavy scenes, he really feels alive. It’s during the quiet moments his characterization feels uneven.
As for worldbuilding, as I said in my review of The Wolf, this is not an original or profound fantasy world. That doesn’t change in this book, it’s still very superficial, undefined, and based on what feels like a mish-mash of fantasy tropes and alternate history.
Copy a map of The Brittish Isles and Continental Europe, take a pinch of European medieval history, mix in some Game of Thrones, add a twist to evolution, and voilá, Albion.
As someone who loves deep, complex fantasy worlds, it doesn’t bother me; the world is a backdrop, a prop, it’s not the focus or point of the story.
That being said, this book does, to some extent, add some depth to the world and it’s people, mainly the Anakim. The South and Suthdal grow a little more defined, but it’s clear that The North and the Anakim are the main interest for Carew; you see the world through Anakim eyes.
Even though the story is told through several points-of-view, my impression is that, rather than deepen the readers perspective by making you empathize with the southern characters, they instead confirm the Anakim perception of the Suthdal people.
This becomes even more apparent when a third race of humans are introduced: the Unhieru. Their culture and society are never examined through any other eyes than the Anakim, landing them in the role of “the useful savage.” It’s hinted that they’re highly intelligent and have a very complex society and genetics, but we never know more than the Anakim.
We’re left with their impressions and, although likable, the Anakim have a very high opinion of themselves. Therefore, their views on any culture different from their own are tainted by their self-importance and prejudice.
As with The Wolf, this audiobook is narrated by Matt Addis. Again, it’s a comfortable, unobtrusive narration that is easy to listen to for long periods.
However, the pace can feel too slow during the quiet parts of the book. If that’s a result of the narration or the writing lagging will be a matter of personal opinion.
On the other hand, during the action-heavy or intense scenes, when a lot is happening at once, it’s easy to follow along.
Like with, The Wolf, this book is a mixed bag for me. I love the action. The intrigue is, with a few frustrating exceptions, also really well done. The characters went through a significant improvement, as did parts of the worldbuilding.
My main issue is that, if some of the character we’re just a little less stupid, there would be no need for a third book. This story could easily have come to a close with the spectacular battle towards the end of this novel.
I want a third book! I just feel that some of the plot twists are a little convenient.
This is a great action story. However, as with the world and characters in this story, my enjoyment only goes so deep. I’m curious about how the story will end, but I don’t feel invested.
With that said, I want to end this review encouraging you to give this book and this series a chance. It’s not life-changing, but if you enjoy well-written action and stories focused on historical warfare, it is a really entertaining story.
My Rating: 6,5
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