Treasure & Treason is the first major book in the Raine Benares series that isn’t from Raine’s point of view. Instead, Tamnais Nathrach, her formerly-dark-mage goblin ally, is the protagonist. Tam is organizing an expedition to the continent of Aquas. He hopes to beat the Khrynsani, who are working with Sarad Nukpana’s mother and evil alien invaders, to finding the Heart of Nidaar. It’s another magic rock, this one with Earth Magic instead of Soul Magic, and letting the Khrynsani control it would be bad news. Before the expedition can set out, however, Tam has to gather his crew. Treasure and Treason is more like that first part of Ocean’s Eleven where we meet all the various members of the sprawling ensemble cast. Unlike that movie, however, this book isn’t so much a heist as a quest—albeit a quest interrupted.
After my somewhat lukewarm attitude towards Wedding Bells, Magic Spells, I was very much looking forward to a book from Tam’s perspective. I hoped it would bring a freshness to the series. Shearin delivers in this respect. Tam’s voice is much huskier, more set and determined than Raine’s. Whereas Raine has a playfulness to her, which comes out even in the darkest moments, there is an edge of desperation to Tam that is no doubt a result of his days as a dark mage, steeped in the blackest of magic. Tam has seen some shit, and even if he is back on the wagon now, Shearin is careful to show us close he comes to falling off.
Treasure & Treason also showcases much more of goblin culture, albeit from Tam’s limited perspective. Characters who played minor roles in previous stories, such as Imala, or Tam’s own son, Talon, return for larger parts here. Shearin has more time to show off the structure of goblin society and explain why paranoia and intrigue are such essential parts of their lives. We really get the sense that not only are goblins used to shenanigans regarding the monarchy and, shall we say, “forced successions”, but it’s almost as if they enjoy it. Or, as Sarad puts it:
You will find that your beloved goblin people bore easily. There is no challenge in peace, no us versus them, no hunting your enemies in the dark of night. Quite frankly, you’ve taken away our collective reason to live.
Literally chills ran down my spine as I read this. Shearin’s prose is often more functional than it is beautiful, but this passage shines. Sarad’s pronouncement is chilling but reads as very true: the goblins like unrest because it is challenging. He has tapped into a question that affects us all: without adversity, what is the point of living?
Not that I’m on the soul-stealing, body-snatching, dream-invading evil goblin sorcerer’s side. Nuh-uh.
Anyway, I quite liked the story here. The first part drags on a little, in my opinion, with more exposition than I would like, before we finally get to some serious action. My favourite action scene, though, has to be when Tam gets to ride a dragon and take out another ship in the process. It’s tightly written, exquisitely paced, and extremely dramatic. I appreciate how Shearin has her characters make a plan, then when the plan inevitably turns into ashes, they improvise splendidly.
Alas, this really feels like the first half of a story instead of the full story. It takes so long to get going on this adventure that we end with a cliffhanger just as the real fun is beginning—this is more the prelude to the expedition than the expedition proper. I gather the sequel will pick up pretty much where this book leaves off. This might be a valid strategy, but I would have preferred one, longer but singular book instead of splitting the story across two books like this.
Treasure & Treason makes me think we’re in Stargate SG-1 seasons 9 and 10 territory here. The main story arc over, the cast is remixed and new problems found to extend the life of the series. That isn’t a bad thing, mind you—I liked much of seasons 9 and 10! But there’s a marked difference between the stories of the first 8 seasons and the last two, and the same can be said here. I will keep reading Shearin’s stories in this universe, because they are good, but I’m wondering if the coherence of the first Raine arc is just so strong it will overshadow everything else.