Gosh, somehow I thought it was only a year since I read The Warrior’s Tale, but it has actually been two?? How time flies in this pandemic.
I was in a minor reading slump the week following Untamed, so when I went back to reading I wanted something I knew I could get through, something unchallenging. Kingdoms of the Night fits these criteria. As I have remarked in my previous reviews of this series, these are not exactly your most original or thought-provoking fantasy novels. In his introductions, Allan Cole makes it clear that he and Chris Bunch set out to replicate their science-fiction success in the fantasy genre in a practical, nearly formulaic way. It’s very similar to how David Eddings has approached writing fantasy, starting with his Belgariad series—and since the Belgariad was my gateway into fantasy, I suppose I have a soft spot for these kinds of books. Indeed, my vague memory of The Warrior’s Return, the next and final book of this quartet, is what motivated me to go back and re-read these.
In this installment, Amalric Antero returns as the narrator. He’s an old guy and definitely no longer interested in sex unless you magically rejuvenate him and dangle the sexy granddaughter of his one-time protégé, Janos Greycloak, in front of him … and what are the odds … what’s that? That’s exactly what happens? Oh. OK then.
Amalric and the new Greycloak set off on an adventure to find the real Far Kingdoms, because the one that he and the old Greycloak found in the first novel were but a poor reflection, much like what C.S. Lewis pulled with Narnia. What ensues is very much your typical hero’s journey adventure narrative, complete with a series of obstacles to overcome, a literal demonic villain, and heroism aplenty for all our major and minor characters alike.
I want to say this is better than either of the first two books, that Cole and Bunch have improved, but honestly … it’s more of the same. If anything, The Far Kingdoms had more heft to it because Amalric faced more internal conflict and character development. In this book, as a fully formed adventurer, he is much more confident in himself—but he doesn’t really have to struggle with his inner demons, just the outer ones, and they aren’t as scary. As much as Cole and Bunch try to add depth to their world through spiritual aspects of the study of magic, the characters don’t live up to these aspirations. Most of them are flat, one dimensional, and even the main characters like Amalric are two dimensional at best.
Now, there are some redeeming qualities. Once again, this book features at least a whiff of queerness (though, sadly, the explicitly gay character is killed off page before we even meet him). I say this only to remark on it as a book from the late 1990s including such views.
Also, while the plot is formulaic and predictable, I would hardly call it plodding or pedestrian. I like to think of books like this as B-movies. I’m not going to heap praise on it, but if it’s on TV one afternoon I would watch it (or stream it if I’m in the mood for something mindless). That’s what Kingdoms of the Night provides, exactly what I was looking for: a simple fantasy story with a happy ending that I didn’t have to think too much about.
I’m not mad about it.