Warning: this post contains spoilers for Will Wight’s Uncrowned, as well as the preceding novels in the Cradle series.
This is our last review of a Cradle book, at least for awhile, since there aren’t any more currently written. However, this is by no means the last book in the series, so I sincerely hope that Will Wight will be returning to finish the series soon. As amusing as it would be to be able to say that I read this book both first and last in the series, that mild amusement would not come close to balancing out the disappointment of not being able to find out how the series ultimately ends.
Before I get into the review, I do want to address something really interesting, or at least something that I think is very interesting. As I explained in my review of Unsouled, I actually read Uncrowned before I even knew this was a series, much less a seven books and counting series. Normally, that would be quite a disadvantage. If you were to jump into, say, the Wheel of Time series at book seven, you would be missing out on a lot of what makes that such an amazing series, and the book probably wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to you. And it’s true that reading Uncrowned without having read the other books in the Cradle series means that you don’t understand everything that’s going on. To me, though, there was actually a certain strength to that, and I actually thought that the author might have been doing it intentionally (before I realized this was a series), much like how some older fantasy and science fiction authors make allusions to a much larger world without ever elaborating upon them (like in Dune, where we get an idea that there are huge institutions and organizations moving in the background, but never get detail on them). As odd as it may seem, Uncrowned really worked well in this way, and I was fascinated to be able to compare how it read before reading the rest of the series, and then how it read after having read the other books.
That being said, I wouldn’t recommend doing it the way I did. I suggest starting with the first book, like a normal person, and working your way through from there. Speaking of which, let’s get into the actual review. Since this isn’t the actual end of the series, I won’t be doing a full series review, like I’ve done for other series, but I have been promising to talk about the long-running celestial sub-plot, so we’ll get into that.
In some ways, Uncrowned shouldn’t have been a strong book. It was another contrived conflict, on the surface, with Lindon fighting a series of arranged duels in a contest between kingdoms. In this book, though, all of the disparate threads and pieces that we’ve been learning about and gaining insight on throughout the rest of the series are brought together to make this seemingly artificial contest take on much larger dimensions of importance to the reader. The political threads that we began to see in Underlord, the magical intricacies that we saw in Soulsmith, the glimpse of larger potentials seen in Ghostwater, and the personal interest between Lindon and other characters explored in Skysworn all play into making the events of this book really work. In my first read-through, before I had that context, I really didn’t much care about the outcome of the tournament, or even what happened to Lindon, but I did care when I read it the second time, with context.
I might have been most excited, out of all the things that happened in this book, to meet Nightstrider. The mysterious Monarch who built the Ghostwater facility, and to whom references have been made in veiled fashion for most of the series, and who was supposedly dead, decides to show up for the tournament, and his motives are totally opaque, both to the reader and the characters in the book. Seeing how he interacts and what decisions he makes is possibly my favorite part of Uncrowned.
Now, onward to that long-running, celestial subplot. There are two ways we have been shown this subplot through the series. Firstly, there are a couple of chapters in each book devoted to characters driving this subplot, beings of a level of magical ability so high as to be unimaginable to even, apparently, the Monarchs. These are beings who can manipulate space and time at will, and are responsible for the organization and protection of an interstellar civilization. Protection being the operative word, because they are presently at war with a dark force that is attempting to overthrow their government and establish a new celestial order.
I’ve seen this sort of thing attempted a few times before, and it usually flops. The characters are either meaningless to the reader, or end up eclipsing the main plot, and the whole thing just feels somewhat contrived. This is partially because so many of the stories are told in third person limited, and so the reader knows far, far more than the main characters do, which can make it easy to become impatient with the main character. There is a little bit of that problem in Cradle, but for the most part the two plots are kept sufficiently separated, and the celestial subplot is sufficiently vague, with little time devoted to it, that it is largely avoided.
The second way we see the subplot is the few indications that these beings have interacted with Lindon’s world. Once is overt, in the first book, and in a way provides a direction for the entire series. It makes me wonder, in fact, if all of these books so far are just going to be part of a sort of extended training montage leading to Lindon becoming involved in the grand, celestial war. Whenever the reader begins wondering why Lindon is going through all of this, and why the events are taking place as they are, it is useful to be able to hearken back to the fate the entire universe apparently hanging in the balance.
All of the other instances are vague possibilities. We know one of the characters with whom Lindon interacts regularly was also visited by these beings, and there is some evidence to suggest that Nightstrider has actually interacted with them, but may have declined to be a part of their conflict. Whatever the case, it is enough to keep the two connected in some vague, nebulous fashion, and the reader looking forward to finding out how the two eventually connect. Which is another reason why I’m eagerly awaiting the next book.
That’s all for Cradle reviews for now. Next week, I’ll be back with a review for you about The Traveler’s Gate Trilogy, which is another series by Will Wight, but I’ll be doing just one review for the whole trilogy. Hopefully, I’ll be able to give you reviews of further Cradle books before too long.