This second volume in the Books of Umber series is a worthy successor to the first, and continues to develop a fascinating fantasy world. Although young Happenstance, the boy with no memory and the amazing jewel-like eyes, has had enough adventures for a lifetime, and would love to settle into life in Kurahaven, all there is not well. There are three young princes in the kingdom, which is ruled by an aging and unwell monarch, and the rivalry takes a violent turn with the suspicious death of the oldest prince. Also, the manic-depressive Lord Umber is in his manic phase, and when he receives a pair of mysterious messages, he and his company are quickly off on another wild adventure. He and Hap, along with the incurably honest Oates and some new and/or unusual friends, are invited to the "Dragon Games" in Sarnica, a kingdom ruled by a corrupt king and his worse son. There they discover that an earlier acquaintance and self-styled rival of Umber’s has stolen some dragon eggs, and the magnificent dragonets he is hatching are being slaughtered in cruel gladiatorial entertainments. Appalled, Hap and Umber plot to recover the eggs, but soon find themselves caught up in a civil war. Before the end, Umber and company will encounter a ring of volcanic fire, a land of strange, small men called bidmes who demand to be constantly commanded or they turn on their ruler, a strange island filled with "soul crabs", who trap the souls of all those whom they devour, an airship spun and piloted by intelligent spider-like creatures, and many, many more wondrous creatures. The adventures continue until at last they make safe haven at home, only to be greeted with the news that the second prince is dead, and the devious and despised third prince is now the only heir to the throne.
This second book in the series delivers on the promise of the first, with more imaginative adventures and even more tantalizing hints about Hap’s past and Umber’s hopes for him. This book is a runaway action adventure, opening with sea-giants, and running through dragons, revolution, bidmes, and soul crabs. There are new wonders on every page, as we learn more about Happenstance’s origins, and Umber’s early days, as well as learning more about the supporting characters, such as the origins of Sophie’s disfigurement, and the torment that Oates lives with due to his being cursed to always speak the truth, regardless of consequences. Background is laid for troubles for the kingdom of Kurahaven, as the assassination subplot is being developed, and doubt raised about the future of the kingdom. Despite the numerous revelations, enough is still mysterious to build suspense for the next book, but readers will find plenty of satisfying action and lots of narrow escapes. Familiarity with the first book will certainly help with understanding this second volume, and readers who start with this one will be sure to want to go back and read the first volume. 400 pages
Reviewed by: Linda Lucke, Learning Center Director, Illinois, USA