Have you ever noticed how over the course of the three original Star Wars movies, Darth Vader gets a bit more impressive with each one? His shoulders get a bit broader. His voice gets deeper. He just appears more menacing. At least it always seemed that way to me.
Where writing is concerned, that’s what I expect of a series. The first book may be good in its own right, but the second is usually a bit better, as the author starts to find their stride. Characters are becoming more filled out. The good become better. The evil more evil. The ambiguous become even more blurred. The seeds of plot scattered across the ground in the first have taken root, and are starting to grow. If this doesn’t happen, if that second book is weak, or just a rehashing of the first, or if it feels as though we’re not reaching a crescendo, I won’t go on. Likewise, if it feels totally disjointed from the first, I’m done.
When I read Coldness of Marek last year, the first book in Rachel O’Laughlin’s Serengard Series I was blown away. I devoured it. I loved the characters, the world, the plot–pretty much everything about it. I hated the ending. Not because it wasn’t good, but simply because it…well…ended. I waited with anticipation for the second book, Knights of Rilch. Well,waited with my usual blend of impatience, anticipation, and skepticism. I’ve read too many series where the second book falls flat. I didn’t think that would be the case here, and I was right.
Knights of Rilch is Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. Broader, more intense, and I found myself unable to put it down. Questions that had haunted me since Coldness of Marek were answered. New questions were raised. Characters surprised me. There were a few chuckles and, yes, some tears. I’m not a softy, so when an author can make me care that deeply about a character, they’ve done their job and then some. And even though the story jumps from present to past and back again, I never felt lost or confused. That takes a deft hand to pull off. Rachel O’Laughlin makes it look easy.
With a plot involving political intrigue, rebellion, war, scheming, and characters holding themselves out to be something other than they are, Knights of Rilch could have become a clunky monster struggling under its own weight. Could have, in less skilled hands. In Rachel O’Laughlin’s hands it is a sweeping tale of loss, pride, and the challenge of holding onto your beliefs when it seems it would be wiser to just let go. She gives us characters with all their faults, all the subtle shades of grey that make them seem so real. Her world-building is incredible. Her storytelling exquisite. The ending…
Once again I’m left flipping my Kindle over, as though there may be more on the backside of it, and screaming, “Noooooooooooooo!!!!”