Ever since I first delved into Twelve, Jasper Kent’s Danilov Quintet has been a reference for me in terms of historical fantasy and vampires that don’t sparkle. Kent’s debut was both an entrancingly thematic exploration of Napoleonic Russia and a refreshing take on the most famous of bloodsucking beasts, and Thirteen Years Later was an even more thrilling tale of mysteries, conspiracies and vicious creatures of the night. The sequel, the aptly named The Third Section, marks a change in protagonist and a significant shift forward in time, telling a story just as colorful and historically rich as its predecessors yet is somewhat lacking in the narrative department.
1855. After forty years of peace in Europe, war rages. In the Crimea, the city of Sevastopol is under siege. To the north, Saint Petersburg is blockaded. But in Moscow there is one who sits and waits - for the death of a tsar, and for the curse upon his blood to be passed to a new generation.
As their country grows weaker, a man and a woman - unaware of the hidden ties that bind them - must come to terms with their shared legacy.
In Moscow, Tamara Valentinovna Komarova - and agent of the tsar - uncovers a brutal murder. It seems this is not the first death of its kind, but the most recent in a sequence of similar killings committed by one who has stalked the city since 1812.
And in the ruins of Sevastopol, Dmitry Alekseevich Danilov confronts not only the guns of the British and French but also another, unnatural enemy: the creatures his father had thought buried beneath the earth, thirty years before.
Where the first two installments of the Danilov Quintet centered around the tumultuous life of Aleksei Danilov - albeit with a thirteen year gap of uneventfulness between the two - this third entry in the series shifts its perspective to that of Aleksei’s son, Dmitry, and lovechild, Tamara. Still, even with their father out of the picture, Aleksei’s progeny still finds itself entangled in the stories of his past notably, of course, his encounters with the hated voordalak - vampires - including his old nemesis Iuda. The widening of the scope, after two books, is no bad thing and Dmitry and Tamara quickly emerge as captivating characters.
But at the same time, in many ways, their story pales compared to that of their father’s. Perhaps its the fact that in so many ways those stories are the same. Kent, for reasons known only to him, choses to have The Third Section - in part - be the account of Tamara’s uncovering of her father’s eclectic tale. The problem is, as well-told as Tamara’s discoveries are and though the novel’s Muscovite backdrop continues to be as sublime as ever, we already know this part of the story. That’s what the first two books were about. Thus, the story lacks any sort of tension (or a lot less than it should) and true mystery.
The Third Section must rely instead on Dmitry’s plot-arch for novelty. He is very much the bridge from Thirteen Years Later to its sequel, having played an integral part in the events told within that second volume, but his part in The Third Section is much weaker. First off, it takes much too long for his arc to find its stride, and then when it has finally found it, there’s a shift in storytelling and it appears everything has to start from the beginning again. As much as his story grows in this new direction, the end feeling I was left with was one of disappointment.
Meanwhile, The Third Section does maintain some of the strengths of the first two books. The background of the Crimean War brings is reminiscent of the perilous Napoleonic invasion of Twelve with numerous welcomed references to that war. Moscow continues to be the main setting, almost a character of its own, with the opportunity this time around for us to explore the Kremlin and revisit the small bordello who’s confines we first entered in Twelve. The treacherous, cunning Yudin (Iuda) is also back and, like before, is thoroughly delightful in his villainous role.
So at the end of the day, I don’t think any who read the first two books should be deterred from reading this third, only a slight dip in quality plot-wise should be expected. Despite the immersive setting and solid prose, there just doesn’t seem to be enough plot in The Third Section to fill a novel. A slight mark down for Kent, then, yet in the overall scheme of things, The Third Section does very little to abase the quality of this series. If anything, it just proves that even the best can’t get it right everytime. However, if things do pick up again in the penultimate volume, as I have hope they will, we should be in for yet another gratifying experience indeed. The Third Section is already out from Bantam Press in UK and is due to hit US store shelves through Pyr this October.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
Jasper Kents' Website: http://www.jasperkent.com/
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