PROS: A complete story in and of itself; builds on what came before (in Frostborn) and leaves readers wanting more.
CONS: Almost *too* quick of a read.
BOTTOM LINE: With Nightborn, not only has Lou Anders told a thoroughly entertaining story, he is starting to reveal a long game for these characters and this world.
Lou Anders returns to the Norse inspired lands of his Thrones and Bones series for middle readers with Nightborn, picking up the lives of Karn and Thianna as they’ve gone their separate ways since the conclusion of the first novel Frostborn. In this sequel, Lou first focuses the story on Desstra of the Dark Elves, training to become a member of their elite agents known as the Underhand. Her final test takes place beyond the borders of her land; she must find an ancient artifact no matter the cost aided only by her cunning mentor Tanthal. Karn is given a similar task from his dragon friend Orm; Thianna has searched for the same artifact at Orm’s bequest and the dragon has lost contact with her. Since the events of Frostborn, Karn is something of a local hero. Karn takes it upon himself to search for her beyond his own borders. Just as Karn is preparing to leave on his journey, the Dark Elves arrive in Norrøngard looking for him, but his friends delay them enough so he can leave unmolested.
When Karn eventually arrives in Castlebriar, he must unravel a couple of games – a word game in the form of a riddle which is connected with the artifact Orm has set him to find and a board game the locals play called Charioteers. He meets up with Desstra and strikes up a friendship with her, despite her not fully revealing just who she really is.
In Nightborn, Anders wonderfully expands both the world and the cast in an organic fashion – the characters are a product of their world and the world is a character in and of itself. Because Karn and Thianna were such well-constructed people in Frostborn, Anders was able to provide a solid foundation for Desstra’s character and her ongoing internal conflict which was primarily who she was becoming versus the cultural expectations placed on her as a member of the Underhand-in-training. As wonderful as Anders infused his Karn and Thiann with life, doubt and believable, youthful humanity, I think he’s done an even more admirable job with Desstra here in Nightborn. Like Karn and his uncle in Frostborn, Desstra struggles under the shadow of a less than savory mentor figure, the selfish and self-centered elf Tanthal.
For about the first half of Nightborn, with narrative focusing on Karn’s search for Thianna, logically we don’t see much of Thianna. Anders lays on the right amount of tension in the build to Karn and Thianna’s reunion even thought it isn’t a surprise that the two friends will get together again. During this time, Karn and Desstra build up a solid friendship, or so Karn thinks. I enjoyed how Thianna and Desstra interacted when they finally met. It reminded me a great deal of seeing two friends from different parts of your life meeting. There might be some concern that the two previously separate portions of your life might not mix well, but then you realize the real problem: they can both make fun of you, and it worked like a charm with Thianna, Desstra, and Karn.
Frostborn was an excellent first novel and series starter. With Nightborn, not only has Lou Anders told a thoroughly entertaining story, he is starting to reveal a long game for these characters and this world. I breezed through the book in a couple of sittings and enjoyed every page of the story. While Nightborn tells a full story within its pages, it seems evident Lou is building something more. He could have easily brought these three characters together and set them on an adventure. But instead, he builds a strong basis for their burgeoning relationship; if they aren’t exactly friends by novel’s end they at least have a good understanding of each other and how their strengths build upon each other and finding out how these characters interact down their adventurous road is something I look forward to reading. Add to that the deeper layers of the world being revealed that have such a powerful mythic resonance that it gives me great anticipation to learn more about the fantastical lands and creatures hinted, the additional layers of those he’s introduced, as well as the undiscovered peoples, creatures and lands of the world.
Lou has had four additional maps by Robert Lazzaretti added to the Thrones and Bones website featuring the new regions and lands revealed during Karn and Desstria’s adventure. Like the previous novel, Lou includes detailed directions with terrific art pieces by Justin Gerard about Charioteers, the game introduced in this book. Not only is Lou Anders giving readers wonderful books, he is giving readers a fully immersive experience for his world and his imagination.