King of the Rising is the second volume in Kacen Callender’s Islands of Blood and Storm series.
The Islanders’ cunning ruse allowed them to slaughter Fjern slavers; many Fjern aristocrats are among the dead. The rebels are in firm control of the island on which the revolution started. Rebellions have cropped up all across the archipelago.
But … the rebellions are not coordinated. The Fjern still control many islands, patrol the sea at will, and they have more armed men at their command than any of the rebel groups. Absent some brilliant strategy, time is not on the rebels’ side.
Loren Jannik is seemingly marked by destiny. He is notorious for surviving drowning, attempted executions, and other brushes with death. In addition to this, he has an extremely powerful magical gift, a kraft that allows him to copy other people’s krafts. Clearly the spirits intend him to do some great thing. Realizing this, his fellow rebels defer, sometimes very grudgingly, to Loren.
This great purpose does not come with any hint as to what it might be. Loren is forced to rely on his own judgement. While he recognizes the need for firm, resolute action where the Fjern are concerned — rehabilitation is not in the cards for invaders who see his people as animals to be used or killed according to whim — he’s torn about what to do about Sigourney Rose (protagonist of the previous book). By birth an aristocrat, she has always been an outsider among the ruling class because her dark skin marks her as an Islander. Her own kraft is powerful. Perhaps she can be spared to serve the rebellion.
Loren’s fellow rebels are not as optimistic about Sigourney. She might be an asset if she is spared, but she definitely won’t be a problem if she is dead. Since she is attractive and because her kraft is for mind-control, it’s possible he is being swayed by non-strategic factors. Nevertheless, Loren gets his way. Sigourney is set off to the Fjern stronghold on Niklasson Helle. there to pose as an escapee while working for the rebels.
The tiny flaw in this plan is that the Fjern leader Lothar Niklasson’s kraft is that he always knows when someone is trying to lie to him. In short order, Sigourney has admitted all to Lothar. Worse from the rebel point of view, she has decided that staying alive trumps whatever commitment she might have made to the rebel or any other cause.
Which is why Loren finds himself facing a well-armed Fjern force led by none other than Sigourney.
An interesting lacuna in the Fjern and Islander traditions: there doesn’t seem to be anything like formal armies as such. The various lords (kongelig) have machete-armed guards, but while the guards are trained, they don’t seem to fight as organized units. Given that the guards generally target unarmed slaves, perhaps there is no need for more sophisticated methods.
The previous book focused on someone who was incorrectly convinced she was the hero. This book looks at someone who while having many positive qualities isn’t really suited to command, despite which he is stuck with the role. Loren is at least aware of his shortcomings, although that awareness seems only to add to his indecisiveness.
One obvious source of inspiration is Caribbean history. There have been lots and lots of slave rebellionsin the Caribbean, as there have been slave rebellions throughout history. With the exception of Haiti, these have generally ended badly for the slaves, as they lacked the resources available to their oppressors. Without giving too much away, Callender is true to her source material, which may surprise and alarm readers used to moral virtue and pluck overcoming stuff like basic logistics.
On the one hand, this is finely crafted. On the other, it’s extremely bleak, leavened only by the fact it’s a middle volume. Perhaps there’s a way to avoid a horrific ending that is not apparent in the events that inspired this setting. Presumably the next volume will reveal whether hope is misplaced or not.