Book Summary #1

20:22 Fri 02 Jan 2009. Updated: 16:52 28 Jan 2009
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I just wrote a summary of the first book I read this year, The Fall of the Kings. It took me longer than I would have liked, at a little over thirty minutes—ideally I’d like to be significantly more succinct, and to be able to summarize in about fifteen minutes. That’s not as ridiculous as it sounds, since all I really need to do is enough so that I will recall the book, not enough so that someone who’s never read it will be given a good overview. This time, I certainly erred on the side of an overview. In any case, do not read the rest if you ever plan to read the book, since it reveals all the major plot points. Otherwise, if you’re curious about either the summary of this book or what a 30-minutes synopsis of a 510-page fantasy novel looks like, read on (oh, and while not as good as Swordspoint, I do think it’s worth reading).

The main plot centers around Theron Campion, heir to the Duchy of Tremontaine, and Basil St Cloud, Professor of History. Theron is a dilettante, attending a variety of courses over his fairly long time at University, and is recovering from rejection by his previous lover, the artist Ysaud.

The setting is similar to late-medieval, so high learning, extensive sea commerce, central government are all present approximate to 1400s Italy, although guns are either absent or exceedingly rare. The kingdom where the action takes place is a union of north and south ruled by nobles who two hundred years or so prior overthrew the last king, who ruled with the aid of alleged wizards. The wizards came from the north, and as the novel opens the ruling nobles become concerned about the possibility of a royalist rising in the north, their worries stoked by an apparent madman’s proclamation in open council that the kings will return. Lord Arlen, the Serpent Chancellor, enlists an agent, Nicholas Galing, to discover what is occurring in the north, and Galing goes to the University, having heard rumors of St Cloud’s research.

Theron and St Cloud engage in a love affair as St Cloud comes to realize that the wizards might well have had real power; he comes into possession of the Book of the last king’s wizard, Guidry, and it exerts a compelling power over him. Theron, meanwhile, gets caught up in the still-occurring rituals regarding a Hunt and King’s Companions, and at one point is chased through the city by northerners, all involved possessed by something that heavily influences their actions; Theron at least part of the time sees himself as a deer. Overt sexuality is bound up in all of this, and indeed runs through the entire novel.

The rituals/machinations of the northerners run into University politics, which in turn run into the intelligence apparatus run by Galing and his friend Tielman, who pick up some of those involved in the hunt and question them, severely. One of them gives up what he knows and some time later commits suicide, prompting crises of conscience in those who knew him, mainly the cadre of students supporting St Cloud. For his part, St Cloud is determined to expose not merely the truth about the wizards but the inadequacy of a research methodology focused on merely reinterpreting/refining prior classic historical works and ignoring other source materials, and he ends up challenging his likely only rival for an upcoming open Chair at the University. In his challenge he states that he will prove that the wizards, and magic, were real.

He descends into his preparation, which is bound up in his being drawn further into Guidry’s Book, and so more into magic itself. Theron, for his part, is warned off by his relatives from getting caught up in University affairs after Galing visits Duchess Tremontaine. Theron is also confused by pressures he feels to act the role of “Little King”, linked to the deer, and begins to behave even more erratically. Eventually he conceives that his way out of this is to marry a “respectable girl”, Genevieve Randall, who he thinks will take care of society obligations for him and also satisfy family and society, thus allowing him to essentially do what he likes without interference. He hides the impending nuptials from St Cloud, who is deeply upset, and who ends up using magic to reveal truths about what Theron is doing. All the while, Galing is insistently trying to tie Theron or St Cloud to a real royalist plot, despite being explicitly warned off by Arlen, who is convinced that there is no threat.

Galing attempts to blackmail Theron into confession using explicit sketches of him he qcquires from Ysaud, but Theron’s black sheep sister, Jessica Tremontaine, returns to the city at around this time and extricates Theron from both this and his marriage contract, by miring him in a scandal that she then uses to launch her own claim to be the true Tremontaine heir; this is a distraction, as she has no intention of attempting to actually win that claim, but thinks that it will cause the nobility to forget Theron for a while. In following this course, she also shuts Theron into the house that she is staying in, reckoning that he is mad (his behavior has become more erratic and is one of the reasons why the Randalls turn out to be willing to let the marriage contract go).

Basil St Cloud’s challenge to his rival, Crabbe, takes place at this time, after Basil has cast a spell which essentially summons the Little King for his Trial, and which spell is responsible for the increase in Theron’s instability. St Cloud conclusively proves that he was correct, both by historical methods and, in the end, by casting spells on the audience, who perceive their effects. Theron appears, and it looks as if St Cloud, channeling Guidry, will anoint him King, but Galing, watching and still obsessed with preventing the royalist plot, attacks them and stabs St Cloud to death.

Theron survives and is taken away, despite his protests, by his sister, who brings him by sea to his mother’s homeland. Galing is rewarded with a night with the Serpent Chancellor, but is then told that he will face charges of murder and attempted murder. Justis Blake, one of St Cloud’s former students, decides that he will fight for the methodology that St Cloud championed, and vows to secure St Cloud’s academic legacy. The northerners appear to go back to their rituals, and it seems that at the close of the book, while St Cloud’s crusade for reason will live on, the chances of wizardry returning to the land are extremely slim.

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