Wartorn: Obliteration hurls you right back into the saga's story with nary a recap for those of us who have read five dozen or more books in the intervening year. So I had to go back and read my review of Wartorn: Resurrection to refresh my soggy memory cells. This can be a fairly consistent nuisance in the series-mad world of SF and fantasy publishing, where stand-alone novels are practically taboo. But some series manage to be good enough to be worth the effort. This, happily, is one of them.
Even more happily, Obliteration is one of those rare and welcome sequels that improves upon the first volume. I've liked the Wartorn series mainly for lacking the pompous self-importance of so many epic fantasies, and just getting down to the business of spinning an enjoyable escapist yarn. This volume wastes no time getting into gear, and its story smoothes over many of the wrinkles I felt the first book had. The characters whose development I thought was weakest have been fleshed out more satisfyingly, and the authors play around with being more clever and ambiguous about just who's a good or a bad guy/girl.
In the first volume, the ruthless armies of the Felk were rampaging across the Isthmus, subduing city-states and peoples with little to no effort due to their unprecedented use of magic to transport their men quickly across miles and miles of territory. As Resurrection ended, mage-in-training Raven had just taken a crossbow bolt meant for General Weisel, leader of all the Felk armies, whose body is actually serving as host to the resurrected mind of ancient warlord Dardas. Now Raven herself, at Weisel's insistence, has been resurrected, and her mind now inhabits the stunning body of famed courtesan Vadya. Raven/Vadya finds her loyalties torn. She has been assigned to spy on Weisel by Matokin, because the latter suspects, correctly, that the resurrected Dardas might have plans of his own in this campaign of conquest. But — especially in her new body — she finds her attraction and allegiance to Weisel, whom she does not yet know is sharing another's mind the way she is, growing. Ultimately she realizes her closest ally is Vadya herself, who eagerly volunteered to be Raven's host body and whose mind coexists with hers, though in a much more cooperative relationship than that between Dardas and Weisel.
Dardas is actually growing frustrated. The conquests have been too easy. City-states merely roll up and surrender. He wants a worthy enemy, as he lives for nothing but the rush and bloodlust of battle alone. He may yet have one. Praulth, the student who knows that Dardas has been resurrected in Weisel's body, and who has most accurately predicted the general's moves throughout the campaign, has designed a battle strategy based upon one of Dardas' own ancient victories. She's counting on Dardas to recognize the maneuvers and respond, at which time, a trap will be sprung.
If one theme is emerging from this saga, it's that war is a breeding ground for opportunists more than a stage for timeless acts of valor and heroism. Despite the conflict that ravages their land, most of the characters here have entirely personal motivations — some good, some bad — driving their actions. Praulth's expertise (and the deference shown to her by rulers) has gone completely to her head, and she wants to defeat Dardas not out of concern for what the people of the Isthmus have gone through, but to ensure her place in the history books. Bryck, whose private psychological war against the Felk has turned into an actual rebel movement, was initially driven to avenge his massacred family; now he finds himself growing into the role of rebel leader and getting a rather nice egoboo out of having a group of followers hanging on his every decision. But when he realizes the very deadly consequences of what he has started — that there is no way to carry off a rebellion where no innocents will get hurt — he rises to the occasion as best he can.
As I mentioned in my review of the first book, this is a military fantasy saga that follows the structural blueprint of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. It has a rich ensemble cast, and each chapter gives us the point of view of one of the leads. It's effective here, as it helps the story and its world engulf the reader, and at no time do Asprin and del Carlo feel like they're simply copycatting. The characters are expertly drawn, even if now and then they seem a little arch. Praulth's newfound egomania, in particular, feels a little overdone. She goes from meek and naive student to someone who demands the title of general, and practically behaves like a queen, in rather too drastic a fashion. (She has one unintentionally hilarious line — at least I think it's unintentional — during a sex scene that I'll leave you the pleasure of discovering yourself.) On the other hand, I was fascinated by the complexity added to such characters as Raven; the mercenary Radstac and her lover Deo; and Aquint, an Isthmus native who turns collaborator with the Felk and heads up one of their internal security forces, not out of betrayal, but simply to weather the circumstances until better opportunities come. As Radstac notes, Aquint has no loyalty to give either side.
The pacing is brisk, and the narrative builds in suspense as it progresses, with plenty of admirable surprise twists and turns in the plot. A lot went on here that I wasn't anticipating, and for that alone I'm prepared to vote these books well above much of the formulaic fantasy being released today. Though Asprin and del Carlo's series doesn't have the vast breadth of Martin's, I do think fans of Martin's will find much to admire here.