At the Feet of the Sun
Lays of the Hearth-Fire, Book Two
by Victoria Goddard
If I had any sort of self-control, I would not have finished this book quite so quickly, because it’s essentially five books all presented together in one omnibus. Which I’m glad of! Because otherwise there would have been some real cliff-hangers. But, it’s really long with multiple interlinked plot arcs and side quests that are massive enough to be regular quests all on their own. And, also, the book (that’s really five books) does come to a satisfying emotional conclusion at the end, but it doesn’t actually conclude the original plot that was set up at the end of the first book. So I’m already looking forward to Book 3, but am glad enough to have a breather before presumably reading another 1000+ pages.
This book starts up soon after the end of Book 1: The Hands of the Emperor, and the first part runs parallel to The Return of Fiztroy Angursell, and then just keeps going with the adventures and development of Cliopher “Kip” Mdang. Kip is a wildly successful bureaucrat who has spent his life successfully dismantling an empire and replacing it with a more egalitarian system of government. And now he’s retiring. He’s not yet officially done, but he’s transferred the majority of his work and responsibilities to others and has the space to figure out who he is now that he’s not so driven anymore, and that’s not an easy path. And also, this whole universe is an amazing creation where there are nine interconnected worlds, magic and gods are real, religion is complicated and diverse, and time fluctuates wildly. Kip’s career is somewhere between 45 and 1100 years long, depending exactly where you stand, and his own personal experience varied as well as he experiences long periods of timeless effort. The story moves seamlessly between practical struggles and legendary adventures; travels on the sea around Kip’s home archipelago and travels on the Sky Ocean between the stars; searching for Kip’s lost cousin Basil and going to get a new fire from the Palace of the Sun.
Kip is amazingly and wonderfully competent in achieving his goals for the greater good of the world, but still struggles to find his place and self-promote when it’s about him and not some greater achievement. And figuring out how to communicate with his emperor as a person whom he loves after spending decades/centuries working with him as an untouchable god is an ongoing struggle, even as they both want equality between them. Through all the struggles, there’s a sense of certainty that it will all work out, or if it doesn’t, then it will be a loss of what could have been but what already is, is still sufficient.
It’s a beautiful and optimistic book, and I really enjoy it immensely.