Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper – Book Review [Shadowhawk]

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Shadowhawk reviews the second novel in the Wild Hunt series, published by Gollancz.

“An interesting novel that takes a greater look at the setting and introduces several interesting characters, but fails to excite and entertain as much as the first novel in the series.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields

Sequels, as I’ve mentioned before, are tricky to get right. There needs to be a clear progression of almost every element in comparison to the first novel, and there needs to be a general improvement in things so that reading the sequel is as good an experience as reading the first novel, if not better. Elspeth Cooper’s second novel in the Wild Hunt series, Trinity Rising does some things right, but it also does a few things wrong, and the latter unfortunately outweigh the former. Trinity Rising is not the novel I was expecting, as it turned out.

The main reason I didn’t like it all that much that the protagonist of Songs of the Earth, Gair, is no longer the protagonist of the story at all. Trinity Rising is far more the story of a simple young tribeswoman named Teia. There are some other perspectives sprinkled throughout the novel, such as the returning villain Savin, Gair himself, the healer Tanith, the wizard Alderan himself if I remember correctly, Teia’s tribal chief and husband Drwyn, Ansel who is the Preceptor of the Eadoran Church, and many others. Together, they all serve to show off the many different sides to the world herein. We see the cities and the plains, the high societies and the simple tribes, the reluctant kings and the power-hungry. Lots of things.

But in all of this, we fail to see Gair as a primary character. And in a startling difference to Songs of the Earth, Gair in this novel appears to complain and pout a lot. His character is just too petty and self-involved in his second outing, and this bothered me. And he doesn’t get to do anything significant until the last few chapters, and even then his character development suffers. The core of the character, as I saw in the first novel, was entirely missing from this one.

I won’t deny that the author’s skills are definitely in world-building. The previous novel was a good enough proof of that and this novel is even more so. The entire setting is rich and layered in its diversity of characters and cultures, in traditions and laws. If there is one big reason to go pick up this book, then that is most definitely because of the world-building. Its the kind that inspires me to work harder on my own efforts.

But of course, that is not all that a novel is about. A novel also needs to have interesting and engaging characters, characters who are well-rounded and believable. This is where Trinity Rising fails the test unfortunately. Teia’s character arc is extremely irritating throughout the length of the novel. She is the primary viewpoint character here and thus I expected more from her, but we never get that. She is someone who is often very submissive to events and who is also unnecessarily petty in that she just doesn’t seem capable of thinking for others.

When you get down to it, there are two types of strong characters. The first category is of the type where they are physically strong and that is their entire defining aspect. The second category is of they type where the strength isn’t dependent on the physical attributes but the attitude, the mentality and the actions taken. And even then, the quality of the writing informs whether the characters of either type are worth caring about. In Songs of the Earth, Gair fell into the second category and he was written well. In Trinity Rising, his category hasn’t changed all that much but he decidedly straddles the fence between the two, and isn’t written all that well. And where Teia is concerned, she is in the second category but is strong on surface only since I never really cared about her, was never given a reason to, and was just bored by her entire arc.

Thankfully, balancing them both out were Preceptor Ansel and Tanith, who were characters I definitely connected with and cared about. With the former, his arc this time involved navigating the politics of the Eadoran Church, and specifically, his sponsorship of an apprentice who turns out to be a woman. Naturally, there is a major controversy at hand which Ansel’s detractors seize upon and it forms a fairly important subplot through the middle portion of the novel. The way that Cooper presents the arguments for said character being accepted as a knight of the Eadoran Church worked really well because it informed our own understanding of such things from the context all around us, where women in militaries around the world are often not considered equal to their male counterparts. Historically, there are ample examples of women fighting alongside men in battles and war, often very successfully, so the argument otherwise is quite flimsy. Cooper takes that real-life context and inserts it into the novel to present this new character, someone who is shown to be the equal of any of her peers. That was good stuff. Especially because I really enjoyed Ansel’s character, a very relaxed and straightforward character who is a genuine good guy.

And with respect to Tanith, we learned more about her people, and their traditions, something we didn’t really see in Songs of the Earth. She belongs to an elfin race and without exaggerating any consequent angle that results from that, Cooper presents them as a mysterious race steeped in its traditions and its bias, unwilling to change. A lot of it can be read between the lines, especially when you consider that they are presented as another version of the Eadoran Church and its own male-centric views. The same goes for Tanith and her people, except she has taken the role of Ansel, as it were, and is fighting to change things from within. I can get behind that, most assuredly.

There were a few other characters that came and went, as I mentioned above. Some of them were good, some of them not, so they all run from one end of that spectrum to the other.

Given all the viewpoints that are juggled in the novel, the pacing was often off, and given the length of the novel, the reading experience unfortunately proved to be a long slog. Unlike Songs of the Earth, I couldn’t wait for Trinity Rising to be over. I had much higher expectations from the novel, and few of them were met.

Despite the second novel slump, I’m still excited and willing to read the third novel in the series, Raven’s Shadow, which was released earlier this year. There is a lot of setup in this novel for forthcoming events, such as the, well, return of an old god of Teia’s people and the events that will played out in Raven’s Shadow and beyond are being given a very biblical-end context. I enjoyed all the world-building here and that is something I want to see really explored in the next novel since it is such a big part of this series.

Rating: 6.5/10

More Elspeth Cooper: Songs of the Earth.

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.