The land of Mordant is in political turmoil. Orison, it's seat and the home of King Joyse, is under attack from forces both inside and outside the castle. After Geraden was accused of killing his brother and made a daring escape through a mirror, Terisa was jailed in the dungeons. With nothing better to do, she takes the king's advice and really starts to think about what she's learned of this strange land in the short time she's been there and what her and Geraden's possible role in saving it may be. She begins to put the pieces together and soon realizes who their true enemy is, but before she can carry this news to the king, an unexpected ally releases her, leading to a new adventure. Chased through the halls of Orison by one of the villains, Terisa narrowly escapes by also stepping through a mirror, where she is reunited with Geraden. Together, they ride through the countryside of Mordant, visiting every major stronghold, trying to rally support for a king who is perceived as weak and ineffective by friend and foe alike. For the most part, their efforts fail, leading them back to Orison, where they finally find out who their true allies are. Setting out with an army to once and for all defeat the forces of their enemies and the evil imagers with whom they've allied themselves, Terisa and Geraden will discover the full extent of their newfound talents for imagery and be tested in ways they never imagined in order to bring peace back to Mordant.
A Man Rides Through was a great wrap-up to the Mordant's Need duet. The first book of the series, The Mirror of Her Dreams, ended on a cliff-hanger, so A Man Rides Through picks up the plot exactly where it left off. It's a complex story rooted in the political intrigues of the medieval-style fantasy realm of Mordant. I would have loved to have a map to refer to while reading the story, and apparently many others fans concurred. I did find a fan-produced one online, which helps immensely in envisioning this land, which is situated between the two enemies of Alend and Cadwal. Years ago, when King Joyse conquered the land, he deliberately placed himself in that position to keep the peace, which had worked well until an unknown enemy rose up against Mordant. ******** Spoiler alert for the first book ******** In order to figure out who the guilty party was, King Joyse made himself look weak so they would attack him first. ********End spoiler alert******** Now chaos has spread throughout the land as this enemy runs rampant. The primary fantasy element of the story centers around Imagery, a form of magic that relies on mirrors to translate people, objects, or creatures from parallel worlds (or within their own world) that can either help or hinder in the fight. King Joyse tried to make Imagery a force for good in the world, but a few power-hungry Imagers have now allied with Mordant's normal human enemies in an attempt to conquer them once and for all.
At the center of all these machinations is a young woman named Terisa. In the first book, she was "accidentally" translated from our world into Mordant by Geraden, a young Apt (apprentice imager) who had a penchant for clumsiness and misfortune. Due to her father's abuse growing up, Terisa suffered from a very low self-esteem and wasn't even certain if she was real. Coming with Geraden to Mordant gave her a new lease on life, but for most of The Mirror of Her Dreams, she was still a very passive character, who kind of allows things to happen around her without taking action. Now in A Man Rides Through, she finally discovers her true talent and really comes into her own. There are times when she still feels helpless, but overall, she becomes a much stronger character who is more proactive. She starts using her bright mind to think for herself and reason things out logically, and she's also willing and even eager at times to lend a hand to Mordant in whatever capacity she can even when she feels like she has little to offer. By the end of the book, she's truly standing up, not only for herself, but also for Geraden and the other characters she's come to care about. It was a lot of fun to watch her grow and change into a better version of herself, while not losing her innate kindness and gentleness. The Terisa of book #1 was a little too passive for my taste, but in book #2, she becomes an even more relatable and admirable heroine.
Geraden, too, is a character who comes into his own. In the first book, he was the laughingstock of the Congery, an Apt who had been in that position for ten years, far longer than anyone else, and still hadn't earned his chasuble as an Imager. I had to admire his grit and determination, but everyone else, for the most part, thinks of him as nothing but a bumbling idiot. He never allowed their jeering to harden him, though, and now he finally gets a chance to prove his mettle. We find out exactly why he hasn't made any inroads with the Congery for so long and he discovers a talent he never knew he possessed. He also puts his determination to good use in the fight against Mordant's enemies, and he also never lost faith in their king even when nearly everyone else, including the king's own family did. Geraden proves himself to be a strong and powerful hero, but he never loses the innate sweetness that made me fall in love with him from the beginning.
There are a plethora of supporting characters in these stories and many stand-outs, some who ultimately gave their lives for the cause, and others who survived, but all fought valiantly. Throughout most of book #1, the Tor was in a wine-soaked state, grieving the loss of his son and the downfall of his dear friend and king, but in this book, he really steps up to the plate and becomes invaluable. Despite his attempted attack on Orison (the seat of Mordant), Prince Kragan proves himself to be an honorable "enemy." The king's daughters, Elega, Myste, and Torrent, all do their part. Myste's soft-heartedness in going after the Congery's champion, Darsint, turns out to be a particularly bold move. Geraden's family are a colorful bunch, but none more so than his brother, Artegel, a charmer with a big personality who is also the best swordsman in all of Mordant. Of course, there's also King Joyse himself and crazy Adept Havelock, who's brilliant strategizing actually paid off. The villains, who I shall leave unnamed so as to not give too many spoilers, were dastardly in the extreme, but not nearly as invincible as they thought they were. Oftentimes, I get confused by a large cast of characters like these books have, but somehow I never got lost and always knew who was who. I strongly suspect that's a testament to Stephen Donaldson's ability to draw each character with a distinctive personality that made each of them stand out.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading A Man Rides Through (for the second time:-)). It's a fabulous fantasy adventure that keeps the reader guessing pretty well as to what might happen next and how our intrepid heroes and heroines will ever win. The climax is a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, thrill ride, and the epilogue wraps everything up perfectly. While the book certainly isn't a romance, there was just enough of it to satisfy this romance fan. I loved that from the beginning of this book, Terisa realized she loved Geraden and their relationship only grew stronger from there, even though it is secondary to everything else that's going on. There are also a couple of other romances in the background, so that was nice too. The only reason I dropped a half-star was because Stephen Donaldson has a very dense, somewhat wordy writing style that left my mind wandering at times, but at the same time, he also has a way with creating some unique and colorful turns of phrase. So, I'm a little conflicted on how I feel about all that. Otherwise, the two books together are a great story that I highly recommend to fans of fantasy fiction.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook