Full Circle: Rewarding and bittersweet

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Pamela Freeman Castings 3. Full CircleFull Circle by Pamela Freeman

The third book in Pamela Freeman‘s Castings trilogy is called Full Circle for a reason, as this is the final installment that reunites the characters, wraps up all the plotlines, and resolves the crisis that has been (literally) haunting the sub-created world of the Eleven Domains. It is a satisfying finish, which takes Freeman’s unique premise, ties all loose ends together and manages to be both rewarding and bittersweet.

A thousand years ago, the war-lord Acton and his people invaded the south-lands and established the fiefdoms ruled by various warlords. The system does not treat the original inhabitants of the land particularly well, and the Travelers (as they are now called) are constantly threatened by the dominant race that took over their homeland. Stories of the communities that were massacred are remembered through song, and even up until the most recent generation, Travelers have been under threat by Acton’s descendants. This has led to an enchanter by the name of Saker resurrecting an army of Traveler ghosts and marching against those that oppress them. The armies of the dead are set loose in various villages and cities, an unstoppable force that leaves carnage in its wake.

Unsurprisingly, none of this is as black-and-white as it appears to be. Our two protagonists Bramble and Ash, as well as a range of allies, can see that Saker’s vendetta is only causing more hatred between the two factions. As such, they’ve been working on separate quests in order to raise Acton’s ghost and have him make reparations to the army that is causing such unmitigated havoc. In the preceding book, Deep Water, Ash came to terms with his own personal identity and his ability to raise the dead, whilst Bramble was taken on a journey deep into the past in which she realized that Acton and his history were not as clear-cut as she’d assumed.

At the opening of Full Circle, Bramble and Ash are reunited in the caverns where Acton’s bones are hidden, and together they manage to raise him from the dead. Meanwhile, Saker and his army are picking up living allies from the Travelers who are tired of their treatment at the hands of the warlords, whilst Lord Thegan himself — the most powerful warlord in the Domains — is using the catastrophe as an opportunity to gain more power and eradicate ever higher numbers of Travelers.

Tension and suspense is upheld throughout the entire book, as one faction continually ups the stakes against the other, and in which every death counts for something. The dilemma seems almost unsolvable, but when all the pieces are finally in place, Freeman finds a way to resolve the situation that remains true to the themes she’s built and the characters involved. There is even a beautiful call-back to the various first-person narrative chapters that have been strewn throughout the trilogy, in which peripheral characters are given the opportunity to tell their stories. Here, their inclusion (beyond simply adding depth to the world and the plot’s circumstances) is given further meaning.

I actually read this entire trilogy along with Freeman‘s thesis “Kings: What A Good Idea,” as a companion piece. In “Kings: What a Good Idea,” she researches the role of monarchy in fantasy fiction, and the ways in which her novels deliberately subvert its role in the epic-fantasy genre.

With an interest in understanding why fantasy literature so often used monarchies in governmental world-building, as opposed to democracy or egalitarianism, Freeman deliberately painted the patriarchal Lord Thegan as a man with ambitions to become a dominant king-like ruler over the entirety of the Domains. At the same time, he and Acton (whom Thegan uses as a precedent) are marked with charisma, intelligence and the ability to inspire loyalty amongst the masses.

Instead of the heroes working toward putting the rightful heir back on the throne, the ultimate goal to end the racism and strife that divides the Domains is to try and establish a system in which every voice is taken into account. It’s this twist on the usual fantasy clichés that make the Castings trilogy so memorable. Likewise, Freeman has a lot of fun with the idea of legends being changed and misunderstood over time, such as with what really happened when Acton invaded the Domains and how he ended up being a tyrant to one group of people and a hero to another, as well as the origins of the Kill Reborn ceremony that is performed every year in a modified form until its full significance has been all but forgotten.

In keeping with several fantasy tropes (such as the immutability of prophecy and the ultimate “destiny” of major characters), whilst departing from the usual formula in several other significant ways, the Castings trilogy is an intriguing and rewarding read, just as concerned with character development and responsible themes as it is with the hero’s journey. Bramble, Ash, Martine, Flax, Leof and even Saker are all realistic and likeable characters, with strength, determination and the occasional flaw. If there was one weaker aspect, it was that the romantic pairings never felt quite convincing to me. Often they seemed to be based on physical attraction with little in the way of any real interaction between partners.

But romance is hardly the main purpose of the story; instead Freeman focuses on the importance of forgiveness, for both the forgiver and the recipient, and how hatred and vengeance are the true enemies of mankind, as opposed to any fairytale “dark lord.” As the makers of their own history and the tragedies that haunt them, it is ultimately up to people themselves to choose a new path and change the future.

Castings — (2008-2011) Publisher: A thousand years ago, the Eleven Domains were invaded and the original inhabitants forced on the road as Travellers, belonging nowhere, welcomed by no-one. Now the Domains are governed with an iron fist by the Warlords, but there are wilder elements to the landscape which cannot be controlled and which may prove their undoing. Some are spirits of place, of water and air and fire and earth. Some are greater than these. And some are human. Bramble: a village girl, whom no-one living can tame … forced to flee from her home for a crime she did not commit. Ash: apprentice to a safeguarder, forced to kill for an employer he cannot escape. Saker: an enchanter, who will not rest until the land is returned to his people. As their three stories unfold, along with the stories of those whose lives they touch, it becomes clear that they are bound together in ways that not even a stonecaster could foresee — bound by their past, their future, and their blood.

Pamela Freeman Castings Trilogy fantasy book reviews 1. Blood Ties 2. Deep WaterPamela Freeman Castings Trilogy fantasy book reviews 1. Blood Ties 2. Deep Water 3. Full CirclePamela Freeman Castings Trilogy fantasy book reviews 1. Blood Ties 2. Deep Water 3. Full CirclePamela Freeman Castings Trilogy Ember and Ash


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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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