As someone who was wowed by Glenna McReynolds' magical The Chalice and the Blade, as well as its luminous sequel Dream Stone, I was eager to read the third book in this trilogy. But o, the trilogy! It is a fickle art form, and a cruel mistress. Very few authors are lucky enough to pull off trilogies well--and I'm sad to say The Prince of Time is no exception. Unfortunately, The Prince of Time, is not at all what I expected. But then, McReynolds is the type of author whose imaginative and verbal pyrotechnics are never what one expects. To be precise then, Prince of Time is not what I hoped for, and doesn't stand up well to its predecessors.
Prince of Time is the story of Morgan ab Kynan, a supporting character last seen in Chalice falling into a time hole. He is presumed dead - but in Prince we discover that he survived tumbling through time, and popping out ten-thousand years in the future. Not surprisingly, the future is a very different place, yet Morgan, an accomplished thief, manages to land on his feet. He quickly adapts to the
techno-dystopia of the future, and sets up business as a wily, adventuresome burglar.
However, the reader doesn't see this part of the story. We are jumped ahead another ten years, to see Morgan already leader of a band of techno bandits. The fait accompli transformation is a lot for the reader to take, and the Morgan of this book doesn't seem much like the Morgan from Chalice. What does seem credible is that Morgan is suffering from a king size case of homesickness, mourning for his green and magical twelfth-century Wales. When not executing some brilliant heist, Morgan spends his time getting drunk. After spending a little time as a reader in this nasty version of the
future, I didn't blame him at all.
The heroine of Prince is Lady Avallyn Le Severn. She is a genetically-engineered, elfin priestess/warrior princess, whose genes were carefully tended throughout the millennia, so she could fulfill an ancient prophecy. It is Lady Avallyn's destiny to meet and fall in love with the Prince of Time, and together they are fated to do battle with a great evil. But when Lady Avallyn meets Morgan, she is horrified to discover that he's common, uncouth and oft drunk, and definitely not her dream prince. While at first breathtaken by the beauteous Lady Avallyn (who bears a remarkable
resemblance to Llynya, heroine of Dream Stone), Morgan has a very
poor opinion of her as well. It is of course predictable that this hate-at-first sight couple will eventually fall in love as they flee from unspeakable evil cross the harsh, desert landscape of the future.
Which brings me to my biggest beef with Prince, the novel's setting. One of the great attributes of Chalice and Dream Stone was that the author took such exquisite care with the setting. Her mystical, magical Wales - part history, part myth, part McReynolds' imagination - is vivid, gorgeous, entrancing, the sort of world the reader longs to step into and live in ever after. But that setting has no equivalent in Prince of Time. The future, alas, is a really horrible place - a deforested
planet, where the oceans dried up long ago, is a series of sand dunes and urban nightmares. That it is essential to the plot that the planet is a depressing, joyless place was not lost on me. I simply wondered again and again why someone with a first rate imagination such as McReynolds couldn't imagine a more interesting horrible future. There have been many other fantastically imagined dystopias - anyone remember Blade Runner for example? But here, the futuristic setting seemed superficial to me. In her other books, there was a certain vagueness of detail that made her fantasy world more lush and mysterious - here the lack of intelligible detail betrayed the thinness of the concept. My guess is that ten-thousand years into the future is just not where Glenna McReynolds' creative heart is.
But the lackluster setting is only one disappointment I have with The Prince of Time. Chalice and Dream Stone both had an array of intriguing secondary characters - Prince of Time had none. That left me feeling stuck with the rather stagnant hero and heroine. And that brings me to the core problem of the book, the frustratingly bland romance between Morgan and Avallyn. Their progression from hate-at-first sight to I-can' t-live-without-you was too fast, unconvincing and lacked deep feeling. In fact, I was never sure if it was really love they felt for each other, or a
function of their programming. Morgan could have been any thieving rogue with a chip on his shoulder. And while Avallyn is initially intriguing, eventually the edges of her poorly conceived character blur into mediocrity. Even their climactic love scene was so ho-hum I had to read it in several tries.
I still give McReynolds a great deal of credit for what she's accomplished - as I said trilogies are notoriously difficult to pull off - and I will likely continue to re-read both Chalice and Dream Stone every year or so. Someday I might re-read The Prince of Time to see if I can get more out of it. After all, it's not a bad book, just a surprisingly unsatisfying conclusion when my hopes were so high.