Cas Peace has really done it up right this time. “The Circle,” Book Two in the “Circle of Conspiracy” Trilogy, is a real barnburner. In past books Ms Peace has demonstrated the ability to create fast-paced action and unremitting tension. In this novel she shows a maturing ability to handle conflict, orchestrating the suspense beautifully.
The story continues the conflict set up in “The Challenge,” where unknown traitors set the two realms against each other by kidnapping the heir apparent of each and leaving evidence to suggest it was the leaders of the other realm who did the deed. Sullyan, stripped of rank and support, sets off alone with the faithful Taran to solve the problem, while the other characters muddle themselves deeper and deeper into chaos.
A small spoiler I’m happy to pass along; Taran, from the start, gives up on his teenage hormonal angst and starts acting like the hero we have all been hoping he would become. In general, we get to spend much more time with the characters we have grown to like in this series, and in spite of the fact that the poor souls are constantly in the throes of deftly handled tension, I find that a great improvement.
The form of the book is to follow four distinct plot streams. They separate at the beginning of the story and each goes its own way. Then they all rush back to the denouement with a crash. Twice. Our point of view jumps from one to the next, leaving each set of characters in a more difficult situation every time, and the tension builds throughout the story to a literally thunderous climax.
There is one curious twist at the end that really puzzles me. It is either a big hole in the plot, a blatant manipulation on the part of the author (which I don’t suspect) or a new direction for a main character. I assume the next book will deal with it. I will leave it to readers to figure out what I’m talking about.
“The Circle” fulfills this reader’s love of great action sequences driven by powerful and relatively straightforward emotions.
Recommended for all Fantasy and Action Adventure fans. It is unfortunate that this wonderful work comes in the middle of a series. It almost functions as a standalone novel, but I’m afraid there is too much back-story required to jump in, cold. However, if you are a newcomer and want to get a taste of the best of the “Artisans of Albia” series, this is your book.
Five stars out of five.