2017’s Lightning in the Blood is the second in Marie Brennan’s Books of the Varekai series.
At the end of Cold-Forged Flame, Ree set out to help her new friend Aadet overthrow the tyrant of Solaine. With the tyrant deposed and rightful heir Enkettsivaane in power, that leaves the question of what to do with Ree, who is an archon, a being of great power. A useful ally, yes, but a dangerous next-door neighbour.
Every archon must follow its nature. Providentially for Enkettsivaane, Ree’s nature provides a solution that will keep his hands clean. Ree’s wanderlust compels her towards Solaine’s border, towards new lands and new adventures.
She very nearly makes it out of Solaine.
The Korenat too are involuntary wanderers, perpetual scapegoats in search of a home. Alas, wherever they settle, unrelated misfortune follows, and the original inhabitants drive out the Korenat. Fleeing a plague and yet another dispossession, the Korenat hope to find a temporary refuge in Solaine. What they find is a Red Leopard raiding party.
Ree encounters the survivors of the raid too late to fight off the Red Leopards. What she can do is guide them to Solaine’s capital, there to plead on their behalf with the King. Enkettsivaane may be wary of archons and their habit of rewriting reality to suit themselves, but he has good reasons to consider what Ree says. After all, she helped put him on his throne … and one of his wives is Ree’s friend Aadet.
Although sensibly cautious, the Korenat are convinced by their own archon, Mevres, to give Ree a chance. Mevres’ nature confers on him a number of gifts, including the ability to recognize fellow Korenat. He claims Ree is one of them. Ree thinks something rings false about Mevres’ claim, but she is still somewhat amnesiac and hesitates to give credence to her misgivings. She does her best to help the wanderers.
As for the Red Leopards: they are the remnants of the tyrant’s army, bent on undermining Enkettsivaane by attacking travellers on the main trade roads. They are a problem that must be handled immediately. That may not be possible; the same tactics that allowed Enkettsivaane and his rebels to hide out in the hills may let the Red Leopards evade the King’s forces. There may also be a traitor in the court, a traitor who is helping the holdouts.
Ree does not remember the Korenat, but their pantheon remembers her. When Ree sets out to find the Red Leopards, she is joined by an unexpected ally.
Timorous Puppies should be aware that Aadet is a man. Marriage is a political institution in Solaine, a method of binding people to the royal lineage. It’s also a way of recruiting functionaries. Solaine’s head of state is also the head of government and their consorts are expected to accept administrative duties. I would image this system has some ugly failure modes (what happens when the King marries for love, to someone who cannot fill out a form to save their life?) but we do not encounter those failure modes in this story.
Archons are essentially demigods. Although they can be killed, they can also be summoned back from the shadows. Upon first reappearance they have no memories of their past incarnations, but the longer they stay alive in one incarnation, the more they remember of their past. Ree is only recently incarnated. Presumably, the narrative arc of this series will tell us how Ree pieces together who and what she is from clues encountered in each adventure.
In keeping with that theme, Ree is presented with a number of mysteries to solve:
Where are the Red Leopards hiding?
Which court member is helping them?
Why is a giant supernatural cat helping Ree?
She does get answers, but not thanks to careful, reasoned detective work. That’s just not her nature. Ree is much closer to that mainstay of detective fiction, the protagonist who can tell who the murderer is as soon as the killer starts shooting at the protagonist. It’s a perfectly traditional approach to problem solving. Still, it’s a good thing that Ree can reincarnate.