Christopher Golden, The Borderkind -- Book II of The Veil trilogy (Bantam Spectra, 2006)
Trilogies are odd creatures -- more like plays than anything else done in a book form, as they assume that a series of acts will be read in a certain order. And like a play, the first act of a trilogy, The Veil in this case, sets up the premise for the plot herein and establishes the characters involved in the plot, whereas the second act must simultaneously build off the first act and stand on its own for those readers who haven't experienced the previous narrative. It is far easier to do this in fiction, as you can build in a preface of sorts which tells the new reader what happened, than you can in a play which assumes that you have already experienced the first act. So does The Borderkind succeeds well at doing both? Yes, indeed it does, but I will still strongly recommend that you read The Myth Hunters, the first Veil novel, before reading this as you'll get a lot more of what is happening here if you do.
But first, let's Christopher set something straight. One of the endearing tropes of fantasy is that swords are magical. Indeed why would a sword exist if it wasn't magical? Not the one here, as he notes in an email conversation I had with him:
It's NOT magical. :)
You'll see it as you're reading, but it's the sword that King Hunyadi used when he was a warrior, and that the king later gave as a gift to Professor Koenig, the previous human 'intruder' who managed to convince the monarchs of both kingdoms to give him a year to prove himself trustworthy. Koenig gave it to Oliver as a calling card, sort of Koenig's seal of approval, by way of introduction to Hunyadi. It carries respect, but no magic.
So let me warn you that Borderkind essentially ends in the middle of the story, as did the first volume, with many issues still developing, so if you're not a fan of that, you may want to wait until the trilogy is completed next year with the publication of the third volume, The Lost Ones. If you're familiar and like series like George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire or Simon R. Green's Nightside series, this won't bother at all. And having read the first, as I repeat that you must do before reading this novel, you'll pick up on the threads first woven into the story tapestry by Golden. I hope that the trilogy will get the hardcover edition one day that it richly deserves!
(Digression. I failed in my review of The Myth Hunters to note that the shapechangers here in The Veil trilogy, such as Blue Jay, could easily fit into the Animal People mythos which Charles de Lint developed in his Newford novels and stories. Like the Crow Girls or Coyote as created by de Lint, Golden's shapechangers are equally at ease in human or in animal form. And both are capable of great violence when the need arises. Unlike the werewolves of popular horror, they are not torn asunder by The Change. Hell, I could see both groups co-existing in some cynosure of a reality. End of digression.)
(Second digression. A riff on Frost. I love Frost, the living personification of Winter Itself. Like Elijah Snow in Warren Ellis' Planetary series, his very touch can freeze you yo your very marrow, and again, like Elijah Snow, can control the weather itself. Golden writes non-humans better than almost anyone else does.)
Not at all surprisingly, de Lint is quoted on Golden's Web site as saying that 'A new book by Chris Golden means only one thing: the reader is in for a treat. His books are rich with texture and character, always inventive, and totally addictive.' And de Lint's right: this is indeed a treat. When The Veil trilogy is completed next year, it'll make a fine bit of fantasy to read on a long winter's night with the snow falling outside.
Now back to the story at hand. . . . The key to appreciating this trilogy is to realize that Oliver is an Everyone, not a Superman. As Golden says according that sword: 'The Sword of Hunyadi hung heavily at his side. Though he had acquitted himself well with it back on Canna Island, he felt foolish carrying the thing. He was no warrior. No hero. He was just a smartass New England lawyer who wished he was an actor.' Oliver muddles through doing the best he can -- a refreshing change from the sword-wielding Hero who kills everything with a single stroke of His Mighty Broadsword without working up a sweat. And he looks at the world this side of The Veil with a sense and wonder -- just wait until read his reaction to the city hidden within Twillig’s Gorge! You too will be amazed at what Oliver encounters there. And you will be amazed as Oliver truly grows as a person in the course of this novel -- here, separated from everything he knew in the other world, he truly is aware of who he is. Even to the extent of journeying off to find the Dustman, a being who in in the folklore of England protects children while their sleeping. Oliver hopes The Dustman can defeat The Sandman, the cruel, sadistic being who holds his sister prisoner.
But enough on the plot. I'm seeing far too many reviews of The Borderkind that detail the storyline in detail. I won't do that. Suffice it to say that Golden advances the plot nicely; there are several surprise twists in the plot, and he nicely sets up the (non) ending to conclude in the third volume. And do watch for what Oliver does with the Sword of Hunyadi as even a sword that is not magical can wield surprising power!