So if you read my review of Book One of Merlin's Immortals, The Orphan King, you can see it wasn't my favorite. I found the pacing and reveal of information (and storyline!) of this one much more compelling, though my rating doesn't portray the difference so accurately.
Fortress of Mist by Sigmund Brouwer
Ridiculously simplified summary: In 1300s England, Thomas, young lord of Magnus, is faced with war and threats from Druids. Can he somehow outwit enemies and overcome in another bloodless war?
Content: Priests are portrayed so negatively I, a Southern Baptist (a denomination hardly known for adoring Catholicism) got uncomfortable. Overweight people are again bad. There is some gruesome violence and quite a bit of cruelty to animals (including mice, bats, even a puppy, and this isn't all by the bad guys). Though in fairness, that all would've been pretty minor by 1300s standards. Still very light on the speculative element; I'm not sure I've seen any actual magic, as everything seems to be done by herbs.
Compelling: 8 out of 10. I felt like the mysteries in this one were much better revealed, and there was more of a focus on Thomas trying to do more compelling trickery for, generally, a good purpose (saving the lives of people). Seeing more of Katherine's viewpoint kept things interesting, too, and we start to see more of the stakes of what the bad guys are doing.
Characters: 5 out of 10. Thomas was more likable, though I'm not completely certain what his motivations are for not wanting people to die, since he threatens death on people (including an apparent old woman) often enough and I got no sense that he actually loves his people. Still, it's a fun conceit to see him try to get through a war without anyone dying. (He is less kind to animals this time around.) I found few other characters memorable, excepting Katherine, and I wasn't in love with all the developments involving her (see Gut Reaction).
Writing/editing: 9 out of 10. I did see one little line I thought was awkward, but no other problems. There were still points where I felt things got muddled, but overall I was able to follow the characters' motivations and the story flowed.
Plausibility/believability: 3 out of 5. I still felt like characters had some modern trappings--Thomas gives a very social conservative speech about making the needy do work for their food (if they can), so that they'll turn to seeking employment from private enterprise instead of accepting handouts. The janitor (?) character--who seems to be the only one remotely affiliated with the priesthood who is considered a "Christian"--sounds very much like a modern-day Evangelical. Again, I'm not a fan of what the Catholic church did in the 1300s, but I don't like to believe that basically all the priests were corrupt (and the implication that their flock wasn't saved).
Positive: 3 out of 5. Love the idea of bloodless battles. I do think people are more important than animals, but I squirmed at the animal violence, particularly blinding a mouse.
Gut reaction: 2 out of 5. We've established that I HATE when books end on a cliffhanger for no good reason except to make readers buy the next one. I didn't feel like this was a gratuitous ending like in the last CSFF book, but it still felt unfinished to me because of how it ended right where you'd normally put a chapter break.
More significantly I was extremely disappointed by (spoiler!)...
Katherine turns out not to be scarred at all, but rather, is in fact beautiful. I'd been looking forward to a story where a guy (granted, a guy I didn't find terribly likable) who claims to see beauty beyond skin-level, might eventually find a scarred woman beautiful. But no; she's perfect. That substantially cheapens the major religious scene in Book 1 where Katherine insists to Thomas that God is a God of love even though she's terribly scarred. ("I am accustomed to the covering of my face." She touched her bandages lightly. "This is not a curse. It is only a burden. After all, our time on earth is so short. And God is more interested in our hearts and souls than in our appearances.") Sure, easy to say, when you have no scars at all and are being cuffed around and called a freak as part of a spy act. Easy enough when you could always choose to take off those bandages and run away and get a fresh start in another town.
Bonus points: 5 out of 5.
Recommended for: Fans of medieval stories, but maybe not Catholics.
Total Rating: 3.0 out of 5 stars
*In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Check out the other participants in the blog tour!
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Rebecca LuElla Miller