The Sphere of Secrets, Book II of the Oracle Prophecies
by Catherine Fisher.
The Plot: Sequel to The Oracle Betrayed; highly recommended that they be read in order.
In The Oracle Betrayed, Mirany, a priestess, and Seth, a scribe, managed to get the true Archon (the child Alexos). In this sequel, we find that getting the true Archon in power hasn't solved all the problems; the political corruption that almost led to a false Archon remain, and a drought has led to instability and the possiblity of invasion. Alexos/Archon decides he must go to the Well of Songs to restore order and save his people.
The Good: The setting is similar to ancient Egypt, so it is very easy to picture the people and places.
The Archon existed as a god in the past; as well as repeatedly being reincarnated in the present. Archon in the past apparently stole three golden apples, and the child Archon has to set things right. As with any quest, Archon must go alone; but alone turns out to include Seth, Oblek (a drunken musician who helped last time), and the dangerous Jackal, a Egyptian lord and secret tomb thief. Even Seth and Oblek, who should know better, do not always believe in or trust Alexos.
Mirany, meanwhile, has to remain back home. Her hands are full, because while nine young women serve the Oracle, only Mirany appears to truly be in contact with the god and to have faith in Alexos. She handles the palace politics and tries to save the city from attack, hoping for news from the travelers.
The Good: Hey, it's the Tolkien rule: split up your merry band in book two! So we get two stories: Road Trip with Action Boys, While Pretty Girl handles Politics.
I like that the god is real; he speaks, has personality, and even some humor. "Deep in the waters, beauty is made from pain. This is something gods should study."
I also like how the people have lost faith in gods, miracles, magic; even Mirany and Seth and Oblek, who know that Alexos is the Archon, do not totally believe.
The two people who plotted for a false Archon in Book one, Hermia and Argelin, return in this book. While their plot failed, their power remained. I like how I feel sympathy for Argelin's cause: he wants men to determine their own fate, rather than to have it dictated by the gods. Of course, part of Argelin's problem is that he believes this in part because he does not believe in the old gods. Is Argelin so wrong?
It's exciting; it's complex; and sadly, like so many Book Twos, ends in a cliffhanger. The Good News is the third book, The Day of the Scarab, was published this summer so it's not a long wait to find out what happens!
I really love Catherine Fisher's writing. I've also reviewed her Darkhenge.
Links: Author Interview at HarperCollins; Bookshelves of Doom reviews the first book.
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