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Scarlet Tides: The Moontide Quartet #2    by David Hair order for
Scarlet Tides
by David Hair
Order:  USA  Can
Jo Fletcher Books, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The hard part about jumping into a new fantasy series in the middle (Scarlet Tides is the second in the Moontide Quartet) is that it takes a while to figure out who are the good guys, the bad guys, and all the shades of grey in between. Having done this, I strongly recommend starting this series at the beginning with Mage's Blood.

The story is complex, with quite a few plot threads to track and follow in this world of Urte. Along the way, the author introduces some very unusual fantasy elements and handles them well. One such is a magical construct, the Leviathan Bridge that is underwater most of the time. But when it emerges (as it has at this point in the Moontide Quartet), the Rondian legions cross to the East on Crusade.

This time they are under orders from Emperor Constant, a puppet ruler under the control of his mother, Mater-Imperia Lucia, at whose court intrigue festers. In addition to their army they send the Inquisition's deadly magi against the Easterners. Magi Ramon Sensini also travels with the Crusade forces, on orders of his crimelord paterfamilias, but has his own agenda.

Another key magical element (sought by both the good guys and the Inquisition) is the Scytale of Corneus, a souce of incredible magical power. Who has it? It seems that, at the end of the previous episode, Cym absconded with it from Norostein, leaving friends and allies in disarray. She plans to take the artifact to powerful Bridge-Builder Antonin Meiros.

Now her friends follow her trail (by windship), in particular Watch Captain Jeris Muhren and callow young Alaron Mercer, who has trained as a mage but has limited skills. Soon the Inquisition is on their trail. Alaron only survives with the help of serpentine lamiae (human magical constructs who live short lives, are hunted by the Inquisition, and seek their Promised Land).

Another plot thread follows young Queen Cera who has betrayed Alaron's Aunt Elena (her mentor and friend) and the people she nominally rules, in order to save her brother. She is betrayed in turn. Elena, whose body was taken over by a magi (but who never stopped fighting that possession), regains control and allies with Souldrinker Kazim Makani (who hates what he is).

Finally there is Ramita Ankesharan, a simple woman whose pregnancy by the Bridge-Builder (now dead) has given her powers that she does not yet understand. She escapes her captors with help from her dead husband's cold magi daughter Justina. All these plot threads weave in and out of each other - with a great deal of violence, magic, captures and escapes - leading to a cliffhanging conclusion.

Complicated plot, with a myriad of key characters to track? Absolutely, so do start with the first book. It will be worth your time, and this engrossing story will continue in the third episode, Unholy War.

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