The 10th Province of Jaryar (Tales from Ragaris) (Volume 2) Paperback – December 6, 2017
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Top international reviews
The first book "We do not kill children" established the credibility of this world with style, humour and a murder mystery in the Kingdom of Marod. That kingdom showed signs of developing strong institutions of the rule of law and possibly the germs of democracy.
This second book moves forward in time and south/west to Marod's neighbour Jaryar, a historic enemy of Marod due to Jaryar's territorial ambitions and a very different country with a more rigid social hierarchy. Its aged king is dying and since his immediate heirs have perished, an election is to be held in which the nobility get to vote on the two competing claimants, the Queen of Marod and the most powerful (but youthful and inexperienced) Duke in Jaryar. The election is to be held in Haymon, the eponymous "10th Province", which renounced its independence under its last weak king and is a vassal state (although apparently with a good degree of autonomy). After the failure of its last king, Haymon has become a republic with the nobles/wealthy electing two Consuls and is thus considered ideal to host the election. Add in a dark prophecy plus an extreme danger of war and the stage is set for political intrigue, murder and mystery.
Once again the author has created some beautifully observed and nuanced characters and tells the tale mainly through the more junior folk in terms of age and/or social status. The plot is very compelling and I found myself racing through it; but what makes it such an interesting read are the inter-woven themes that add so much to the understanding of the world the author has created.
For example, the people of Jaryar often regard Marod as a violent barbarian land, while those of Marod see Jaryar as an oppressive and aggressive threat. The mutual suspicion is hard to overcome and it permeates the process. The equality of the sexes and how that can often create issues for powerful males is explored in several ways, such as the King of Marod (who is the consort to the Queen and representing her at the debate) and the Duke (who is bullied by his stepmother the Dowager Duchess). There are also themes of the difficulties that aristocratic societies have with social mobility, set very well in the context of romantic relationships.
The credibility of the religious and gender equality aspects of the society are enhanced by little touches. Characters take sin, prayer and forgiveness seriously, just as medieval people did (something that is mainly missing in much historical fiction) and the Church in Ragaris has the same kind of issues on corruption and hypocrisy as its real comparator, despite its more liberal teachings in some areas. On the equality side there is a wonderfully described ball, where it is the women doing the selection of dancing partners. This struck me as a lovely inversion of Jane Austen dance descriptions.
In summary a fantastic sequel, which also includes some touching links back to the first book. I can't wait for the third book, which will take us to the large and dangerous country of Ricossa. This world has really grown and Penelope Wallace can take it in so many different ways. It will be fascinating to read what she does with it.
The things that made her first book remarkable are still there, but are in fact improved upon – the world is extended, so you get to discover about more of its peoples, the characters are once again memorable (the only niggle I has was the names – I spent quite a lot of the early chapters going back to the strategically placed list of Who’s Who at the start until I could get them straight in my head!) and well described, and the story is excellent. The book takes place a good number of years after WDNKC, and this time involves the election of a king – what better chance for intrigue, murder and suspicion? This is an excellent book to anyone who enjoys murder mysteries or historical novels, but I would go further and recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading a well-crafted story.