Circle Trilogy, by Nora Roberts

>> Monday, January 29, 2007

I made it! When I saw early last year that Nora Roberts would be having a new trilogy out in three consecutive months, I promised myself that I'd wait until I had them all before I started reading. It was hard, especially because I didn't wait to order each book, so first Morrigan's Cross and then Dance of the Gods had weeks to do their siren's call from my bedside table, but I managed to resist.

Morrigan's Cross

In the last days of high summer, with lightning striking blue in a black sky, the sorcerer stood on a high cliff overlooking the raging sea...

Belting out his grief into the storm, Hoyt Mac Cionaoith rails against the evil that has torn his twin brother from their family's embrace. Her name is Lilith. Existing for thousands of years, she has lured countless men to an immortal doom with her soul-stealing kiss. But now, this woman known as vampire will stop at nothing until she rules this world—and those beyond it...

Hoyt is no match for the dark siren. But his powers come from the goddess Morrigan, and it is through her that he will get his chance at vengeance. At Morrigan's charge, he must gather five others to form a ring of power strong enough to overcome Lilith. A circle of six: himself, the witch, the warrior, the scholar, the one of many forms, and the one he's lost. And it is in this circle, hundreds of years in the future, where Hoyt will learn how strong his spirit—and his heart—have become...

.With one vampire determined to rule the earth, the Circle of Six prepares to battle for their lives-and their hearts.

Valley of Silence

The battleground has been chosen for the final showdown between those selected by the gods and the minions of the vampire Lilith. But there is one vampire who dares stand against her. And his love for the scholarly queen of Geall will complete the circle of six—and change the face of eternity.

I'm very glad I was strong and resisted, because this trilogy reads very much like a 1000-page book in three volumes. There is a sense of closure to the romance in each of them, but the bigger story, the good vs. evil battle, doesn't reach any kind of climax until book 3. And even the romance doesn't stand alone completely. I mean, the one in book 1 does, but the one in book 3 has quite a bit of development in the first two books.

I'm just mentioning this to warn potential readers not to start in the middle of the trilogy, not because this hampered my enjoyment of the trilogy in the least. Reading the books in the way I did, one right after the other, and having them be so closely related was wonderful. My grade for the entire trilogy is a B+.

In 12th century Ireland, evil vampire Lilith turns Cian MacCionaoith into one of her creatures. After a confrontation with them both, Cian's mourning twin brother Hoyt, a powerful sorcerer, receives a visit from the goddess Morrigan. Morrigan has an important mission to entrust him: a battle will take place against Lilith, the most important battle ever to be fought. Every world ever created is at stake, not just this one, and the consequences will be dire, should Lilith triumph.

Morrigan wants Hoyt to travel some 900 hundred years into the future, to the time when the battle will happen, and gather five others into a Circle of six which will lead the forces of good. Cryptically, she tells him the identity of the other members of the circle will become clear, and that they will be the witch, the warrior, the scholar, the one of many forms, and the one Hoyt's lost. They'll have three months to prepare for the big battle, which will take place in Samhain, in a place called the Valley of Silence.

And this is what the trilogy is about, basically. In book 1, Morrigan's Cross, the Circle is gathered in 21st century Ireland, with its members slowly becoming clear, just as Morrigan promised. And while the members of the Circle get to know each other, assess their strengths and start planning what they will need to do in order to get ready in time for the battle, a romance flourishes between sorcerer Hoyt and with Glenna.

In book 2, the action moves to the world of Geall, where two of the members of the Circle come from and where the famous Valley of Silence is located. The focus here is on the preparation for the battle, and it's not just the members of the Circle that need to hone their skills. These six will lead an army, and all the people of Geall will need to be part of it, not just the trained soldiers. And also here, as the training continues, we get a very nice romance between shape-shifter Larkin, a native of Geall, and the warrior in the team, the kick-ass vampire slayer Blair.

Finally, book 3 takes us to the final battle and the very last preparations leading up to it. And as they get to the point of no return, the relationship between vampire Cian and the queen of Geall and scholar Moira, which had been full of sexual tension from the very beginning, develops into a seemingly hopeless love affair.

And of course, while all this happens and the battle gets closer, Lilith and the vampires are not just waiting quietly for the final fight. Throughout all the books, there are clashes between both sides, clashes which make it very clear to us readers that the consequences of a victory for Lilith's side would indeed be disastrous.

To be honest, the romances here are nowhere near the best NR has written. I enjoyed them, especially the one in the second book, which I think makes me the exception, because most other readers seemed to prefer Cian and Moira's. This was a surprise to me, actually, because when the relationship between Larkin and Blair started heating up I wasn't very excited about it at all, but they both (and especially Larkin, with his easygoing personality which hid some very interesting depths) won me over. Meanwhile, Cian and Moira, who I'd expected would have the most wonderful romance, were a bit disappointing, mostly because it felt to me as if things were settled between them almost before they got started.

I was saying, before I got side-tracked, that I enjoyed the romances, but they weren't at all what really made the books so wonderful. Reason Nº 1 I couldn't stop reading even for a second was the relationships between all six, not just the three couples. This is par for the course for me in NR trilogies. She is excellent at depicting friendship and comradeship and relationships between brothers and sisters, and this aspect was very strong in these books as well. I especially liked the rapprochement between Hoyt and Cian.

Reason Nº 2, which was a surprise to me, was the bigger plot. There's a lot of emphasis here on things that would ordinarily put me to sleep, like action and fight scenes, battles and battle strategy and scenes of evil-doing from our horrible villains. And yet... I couldn't get enough. They were wonderfully written and fascinating, and I was captivated by the huge feel of the story, the enormous scope of it and the very life-or-death consequences their struggle would have.

Part of the reason this works so well is that Roberts has created some very scary villains here. The vampires are Evil, really Evil, with a capital E, as shown clearly by some scenes that literally made me queasy, and yet felt necessary and not at all intended for titillation. Lilith was spine-chillingly horrible, and her "son", Davey, was the creepiest thing I've seen in some time.

Next to them, the humanity of the Circle and their followers is even clearer, especially Cian's, vampire as he is. I also liked that it is acknowledged that many of the Circle members and of the people who will make up the army that will fight Lilith just aren't ready for such a fight at the beginning. The preparation is truly grueling, and so exhausting and complete that I was able to buy that they would, in the end, be ready to fight the powerful vampires.

Finally, with such a trilogy, with almost 1000 pages all leading up to one big scene, that scene had better give us the climax we've been waiting for. And it does. The battle is wonderfully written, with as big a scope as the story itself, but at the same time, with enough human detail to keep it from becoming impersonal. Just excellent.

Having loved all this so much, why not an A grade for the trilogy? Well, what keeps it from that is a problem I had with the very definite characterization of all vampires as "other", with no humanity at all. You do get a tiny glimpse, once of the idea that there still might be a tiny little bit of the regular child Davey in the evil child vampire Davey, but it's only a second. All the rest of the time, it's stressed that what the Circle is battling is not human, that they can't afford pity, or any kind of hesitation in destroying any vampire, however pitiful it might seem. There's even a scene in which one is taken prisoner alive, and when the interrogation (and I mean interrogation in the worst possible sense) is over, he's immediately executed, over Moira's instinctive protest. She's told it had to be done, and what possible purpose would be served by keeping him a prisoner, alive? It's not like he'll repent and become a good person.

Ok, I might have bought this because, yeah, it's Nora's world, and if she says that being evil is an inevitable consequence of being a vampire, well, she makes the rules for her world. But the thing is, we have Cian here showing us that a vampire can, indeed, not be evil. If Cian had the potential in him to, after centuries of hunting humans and killing them, become the good person we're seeing now, why not this vampire they've just interrogated? Or was there something special about Cian (other than simply being one of the heroes, I mean)? For that matter, just how was it that he became what we see now? That was never really explained. There's a throwaway "It was uncomfortable and awkward to live among them and do business with them and at the same time hunt them" explanation, but we never see how Cian moved from bloodthirsty vampire who couldn't think of much more than to kill and feed to someone who'd be cool enough to actually engage in business with humans.

But that's it, really. This is a trilogy I'd recommend even to those who don't generally like paranormal but do like Nora Roberts characterization.


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