I thought that the fireworks and thunderclaps of the climatic end to the former theme of this series would make it a hard act to follow.
I was happy to find myself proved wrong.
The reader doesn’t need to worry. Though the action in this concluding instalment starts on a minor key, the dramatic tension and emotional intensity build up piece by piece, like an orchestra readying for the dramatic finale of a symphony. The action here is excellently paced, the tensions exploding into a drama every bit as gripping as the story arc in the earlier books.
Zoë lives in an isolated castle or fortified manor house in the forested mountains Germany of the year 2090. This is approximately eighteen years after the dramatic conclusion of the epic struggle between the reincarnated personalities of the former Aridela, Menoetius and Chrysaleon of the Bronze Age.
In this era, after the upheavals, violence, war, catastrophic depopulation and environmental destruction of the previous age, outside the domed cities, the world has largely reverted to the technology – and to some extent, the class structure– of a former age. The population seems to be in terminal decline.
Deprived of the company of other young people, raised by a mother with some nervous problem, a loutish and unfeeling father, a remote tutor and a group of servants, the girl takes refuge in a world of fantasy centred about a friend who lives secretly in the Schloss. She calls this friend Teófilo, and confides all her thoughts to him.
He communicates to her a magic world, and she shared with him her passionate, precocious love of her favourite Victorian era author. She has a book of his poems with a photograph, and he is her idol.
Teófilo is protective of her. The advice he gives her is often strangely wise, if it has been made up only by herself. Other parts of it are mixed with her fantasy world:
“Blow the bubbles,” he whispered. “One of these days, one will—” “Yes, yes, wrap round you without breaking. I’ve heard this before.” “Transform me into the one who can grant your every desire.”
Zoë instinctively communicates with nature as well, particularly with trees. She is soothed by their ancient wisdom.
Then, one day, this life is shattered by an armed attack. Cannon damages the castle. Far worse, it ends Zoë’s childhood and destroys her only friend Teófilo.
She soon learns from her brutally indifferent father and rambling mother that although she is only twelve, she must leave home and entrust her future to a man she has never met before, a man of whom her parents are terrified. This is all part of the price of some arrangement that she never heard of.
It is, however, a relief to her that he reminds her irresistibly of her favourite poet.
They travel by horseback through a Germany largely reverting to a pastoral landscape. They are always pursued by their enemies:
‘We slipped through the dark like wolves, stealthily, our guards’ knives intermittently catching the gleam of moonlight like a wolf’s teeth.’
Somewhere near the borders they come on the ruins of one of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany:
‘Because the trees on the west side of this clearing were thinner and leafless, and a lot of the grey wall toppled into low piles of rubble, I could see almost all of the area it once contained. Wind keened softly as it blew through an inner fence made of solid posts and barbed wire. Two fences. Had they kept something in, or out?’
Zoë is only later to understand that this is the ruined remains of a concentration camp. This past genocide the ruin represents are symbolic of the later slaughter in the time so much closer to Zoë’s, and the horrors that the future might yet hold, if the wrong choices are made.
It is only when they reach her final refuge that Zoë gradually begins to understand how she is a key part of the future of the world
Zoë realises how her own story links with that of the struggle of the Erinyes, of the story of Erin Aragon. The struggle the Erinyes initiated is still incomplete: the forces controlling women’s destiny have yet to be overcome.
I was delighted not to be disappointed with this concluding episode to the Erinyes Series. It is as cohesive, as flowing in style, as page turning as the previous episodes, and if anything, the word pictures are even more evocative. There is, as others say, a poetic feel to the prose.
The new set of characters – I won’t write a spoiler and say if any of the old ones make an appearance – are as gripping and complex as the former ones.
If I have a complaint, it is an unreasonable one: I did miss the comic evil of Harpalycus. But his role in the epic, like that of the former Aridela, Menoetius and Chrysaleon, is complete. Besides, and there is a pretty impressive villain.