De Achtste Rune, the novel makes no sense. It is a direct sequel. In fact, I think it could have been written as a single (admittedly pretty large) novel. This concluding volume is definitely lighter on social issues, I got the impression Stone had quite a bit of trouble tying up all the story lines he started in the first novel.
In Kadish, the God-Emperor Danobe has acquired the eighth rune, making him more powerful than any of his predecessors since the cataclysm that rocked the continent ages ago. This power has a price however. Danobe hears voices that drive him slowly insane. The only thing that can hold them at bay is the healing magic of Serina, enslaved priestess of Viguru. Danobe needs to stay focussed. He has a rival eighth after all. Ghelan has survived the trap set for him and has come out as powerful as the God-Emperor himself. These two men are the only ones who can stop the looming disaster created by the pair of them in the previous book. The dimension of the gods is still leaking into the world though the rift created by Ghelan. It must be stopped before it overwhelms the world. Only the eighths can do it, if they don't destroy each other first.
Stone spend much of the first novel laying out the stresses on Kadish society and showing the reader the nation was on the brink of collapse. In this novel, the inevitable happens and things come crashing down. It doesn't quite happen in the way the previous novel seemed to suggest though. Stone used his characters to show the various cracks and stresses in society in the first novel. This book is much more focussed on their personal challenges. The novel leaves very little space for what is going on outside the line of sight of the main characters. I thought this was pretty strange given all the rebellious talk, clashing interests and general discontent displayed in the first novel.
During his tyrannical rule Danobe is not concerned with the wellbeing of his subjects. His reign is one of unpredictability and ruthless action, the consequences of which can be felt far outside Kadish' borders. Stone captures the chaos and terror among his subjects very well. Even characters used to being in his presence fear his unpredictable temper. As a seventh rune magician he was already the most powerful magician in the nation. Now the eight rune distances him even more from ordinary mortals. The mad king is a figure that shows up in fantasy quite often, it is perhaps not the most original element in this novel but Danobe made me nervous so I guess it works to an extend.
His fellow eighth and adversary Ghelan faces the same challenge but deals with it in a different way. You could say Ghelan is a bit of an anti-hero. Where Danobe sought the power of the eighth rune, Ghelan had it trust upon him. It doesn't make a difference to the encroaching madness but where Danobe denies the connection and revels in the power it gives him, Ghelan would do anything to get rid of the rune altogether. He is haunted by guilt over his part in Danobe's rise and the rift between dimension he created. It makes him easily the most annoying character in the book. He is indecisive, stubborn and at times wallowing in self pity. For most of the novel I thought what he needed was a good kick in the backside to get him moving. When he finally does make a major decision, it is mostly driven by his own needs rather than the clean up the mess he got himself in.
The character the story revolved about in the first book, the priestess Serina is less prominent here. She is still being held but the God-Emperor in a strange mixture of enslavement and affection for her captor. Given the level of force being used and the mistreatment Serina is subjected to, this part of the story remains problematic. Her feelings towards the God-Emperor are hopelessly and unrealistically mixed. She does become a bit more calculating though, making sure that the child she carries will be the only one Danobe will ever have. In the novel, Serina's story line explored sexism and racism in Kadish. Something that moves to the background considerably in this book. Her healing skills are met with a kind of grudging respect but what more freedom might do for the nation is no longer of any concern to the other characters. In fact, the finale of the novel hints at a continuation of the suppression of women. I consider Serina's story line something of a missed opportunity.
In the end, the story left we with mixed feelings. Stone delivers another competently written fantasy novel with De Eerste God but I don't think it lives up the the promise of De Achtste Rune. I got the impression he was struggling tying up all the loose ends and lost track of the implications of of what he showed the reader in the first novel. The Rune duology hides the bones of a larger, more complex tale than Stone ends up delivering. There is plenty to enjoy, De Eerste God is a decent, fast-paced read but I think it could have been more.
Title: De Eerste God
Author: Adrian Stone
Publisher: Luitingh Fantasy
First published: 2012