Aah, sweet relief. Comfort food. I'm not going to lie to you - part of this novel's high review is that, in comparison to the deadly boring Quicksilver, this is packed with action and good characters. The reason is doesn't get an A is mostly because of my forgetfulness. I haven't had the time to read the Crown of Stars series for at least a year, so jumping right into the penultimate volume left me with serious disorientation.
It took a long time to remember who Antonia (the eeeevil, fanatical biscop) was from the previous books, as well as her son Heribert. But anyway...
This book starts off in fine, if depressive form. For any of you who haven't read the Crown of Stars books, I'll try to explain things, but I can't let this review get too long, so read the first books if you can. No, really. They're good. They're chock full of intrigue and medieval detail and have one of the finest political systems I've ever read of. In this world, men and women are more or less equal, but are given different functions. Women are political - in this world, the eldest daughters inherit. So women get most of the position of power - plus, in a cool twist on Catholicism - they rule the Church! Only women can be biscops (bishops) or become Skopos (Pope). I loved this idea.
However, guys fight - while women can be military leaders as well, it's mostly men. Wives stay on their estates and govern them, while their husbands ride off and defend them. It's an interesting and highly effective system.
In In the Ruins, the world is once again in deep trouble. Anne, an evil Skopos, and her followers attempted to weave a giant spell that would keep the elven Ashioi's world from returning to their own, and failed. The resulting cataclysm of the two worlds joining to become one again creates unspeakable devastation - earthquakes, volcanos, floods, tidal waves, and a huge layer of ash that coats the sky and hides the sun. However, according to main character Liath, the destruction would have been much worse if Anne had succeeded, as it would have literally sundered the world in two.
Sanglant, bastard half-Ashioi son of King Henry, and husband to Liath, has been declared regnant by Henry's dying words. Always an obediant son, he takes the remnants of his father's great army, combines it with his own, and seeks to return home to his country in Wendar to help repair what damage has been done to his nation. While still faithful to Liath, their marriage hits an obstacle when the higher members of the Church urge him to put his wife aside, seeing as she comes from no great family, and was excommunicated in a previous book to boot!
Meanwhile, the evil Antonia (one of the few of Anne's followers to survive the backfiring of the spell) has been declared Skopos by Queen Adelheid - the wife of King Henry, and the one who orchestrated the plan to have him ensorcelled by magic in order to declare their daughter heir to Wendar (instead of Henry's older children), and forcing him to try and kill Sanglant. With Henry dead, she scrambles to set up a court of her own in order to challenge Sanglant for the throne.
And finally, the sundered Ashioi find themselves one big happy people again, but troubles arise regardless. During the original spell, thousands of years ago, that sent their half of the world into an exile in the aether, half of the people were exiled to eke out a starved existance on the dying fragment of their land, and the other half were suspended in time back on Earth. The poor, thin exiles must contend with the much more numerous, healthier Ashioi, who, as their humiliation is more recent in their minds, wish to wage war against all of humanity and destroy them forever.
That's basically the set-up of the book. Kate Elliott writes a great page-turner, although sometimes she's a little too heavy on the setting descriptions. Her characters are flawed, but fabulous, with solid pacing and a great story. Nothing goes right in this world - it keeps getting worse and worse, leaving me in greater suspense as I wait to see how the problems can possibly be resolved. Hopefully, unlike China Mieville, in her last volume she won't freeze everyone in time, but will actually come up with conclusion. I've trusted her this far.