Horded is the second book in Frances Pauli’s Kingdoms Gone series, and I have to say I liked it even more than the first one. Several years have elapsed since the events in Unlikely, and this book deals with what happens to Maera, the young, thoughtless girl who would have done anything to win the attention of the villain in the last book. Being the villain of course, Vane uses her as a convenient tool to get what he’s after, even though she’s too young to realize what’s just happened until much too late.
With that said, it’s not absolutely necessary to read Unlikely before Horded; it just gives you a little more background on the main character and the setting, as pockets, thistledown, and dust are not re-explained for the first-time reader. For this story, those things are pretty easy to pick up from context. Maera herself has obviously done some maturing and introspection in the years that have passed since the last book.
Maera has spent the last few years travelling from town to town, trying to stay away from the gangs that fight over the pockets and remnants of the old magical Kingdom that used to be. Her experience has taught her that magic leads to fights over who controls that magic, and she wants none of it.
Drifting and trying to make amends after being outcast from her old life, Meara’s finally found a town that hasn’t been tagged by one of the gangs, with no magical traces to attract that kind of riffraff.
Or maybe not? One evening she sees the Weaver’s wife put coins on the lip of the well, and two gray arms reach out from the sky above the well, take the coins, and leave a package. The town has a pocket after all, right smack-dab in in the middle the town square. Every time she looks at the pocket, she feels strange, like it’s sending out some kind of rhythm or pulse to pound around in her head. She goes home and starts packing, but before she can leave a Gobelin pops out of the pocket, kisses her in front of the whole town, and gets dragged back into the pocket by another Gobelin. But not before one of the villagers manages to put an arrow into the Gobelin kisser. Always kind of the social pariah, now Maera is the center of attention, and the town is out for Gobelin blood.
Our other viewpoint character for this book is Tal, a rather unlucky, unblessed Gobelin whose younger brother appears to have inherited all the good genes from their parents. Including now finding his “Tir Talis” or “beating heart,” even if that individual does happen to be human. Tal is just trying to get his brother away from the human “witch” who’s enslaved him, but his brother is not cooperating. Not by a long shot. Tal gets dragged from one calamity into another as his brother insists on bringing this human with them. A human who doesn’t even know what it means to be Gobelin; a human the horde is not going to approve of.
Unlikely’s review has apparently been eaten in the great website hack of 2014, but Horded mirrors the lyrical, mythical feel that I really liked in the first book, and builds on it. The author’s prose is seamlessly blended with rich imagery, nuance, and a kind of timeless quality. I also really enjoy getting to see so many divergent fairy tale-like landscapes. With all of the “Tir Talis” running around, this one does feel a bit more like a romance, but since one of our viewpoint characters is outside of that relationship, watching the effects of this magical bond on his brother and Maera, it falls short of being the true focus of the book. Maera and Tal are actually very similar characters in their self-loathing, poor self-esteem, and immediate willingness to assume all blame.
In that regard, they operate as a foil for each other. Usually, I would say that you have two very different characters to use as a foil, but somehow the author makes it work in this case. Like looking into a mirror, Maera and Tal highlight the flaws in each other’s internal logic, and while we don’t get to see into Tal’s brother’s head, as a character that obviously puts a lot of trust and faith in both of them, he provides a kind of background counter-point to their rather pessimistic views on everything.
For me, I think the true message of the book was one of healing and realizing your own potential– even if that potential is outside of societal norms. I think the author’s done something really amazing here by taking what are honestly fairly standard fairy tale elements and themes, and layering so much deeper meaning into them, that the story eventually ends up somewhere totally unexpected.
I really enjoyed Unlikely, so I am glad to report that Horded did not disappoint, and holds together even better than the first book.