One of my very favourite parts of Lord of the Rings (the movies), is when Théoden says, kind of to no one “What can men do against such reckless hate?” and Aragorn replies “Ride out with me.” I mean, we get excellent costumes and music and fighting and whatnot, but those two lines, and Hill’s delivery in particular, stick with me.
At the core, that is what I loved so much about Chris Moriarty’s new book THE WATCHER IN THE SHADOWS, which is a continuation of her early novel (that I also love dearly), THE INQUISITOR’S APPRENTICE. Every person in the story (well, the good ones anyway), work so hard, and with so little in the way of hope. Both of Sacha’s parents work 15 hour days, and his sister does that while attending school and organizing a general strike. Sacha’s hours are less predictable, but he spends a lot of time running around the city, at no small amount of personal risk. Even Lily, who in theory never has to work a day in her precious life, works her butt off.
And they all do it for the same reason. They hope.
They all hope for different things, of course, but every day, they get out of bed and they go to work, and they hope.
There’s no glorious charge here. They will still be Jewish. They will still be poor. They will still be Kabbalists, and have to walk The Path of No Action or risk the disdain of God, and Sacha will still have a demon specifically designed for him on his tail, but they keep going. The ride out against that reckless hate, the kind Morgaunt preaches as progress, and then they ride out again.
What I like about it, though, is that there’s no whining and moaning. I mean, 90% of their lives are terrible, but what they do with the other 10% evens it out. They’re alive, they have each other. And they are happy, more or less. It’s kind of amazing. And, even more amazing, they are slowly, slowly, working their way uphill.
These kids (and they are repeatedly referred to as “kids” and “small” and “little” and so on), are not going to follow their parents to drudgery, but neither will they take the easy way out, join Magic Inc., and spend the rest of their lives dodging prison. They are making their own ways. Bekah and Moishe and Sacha, and Lily too, though again her path is quite different. They will not be their parents, even though some of their parents are actually good people, and that is kind of great, even though the demons are still coming for them, all the time. The demons always will. That’s no reason to give up.
So they go back to work. They go back to school. Sacha will try to be more broadminded. Lily will try to be wrong in increasingly glorious ways, but right in all the important ones. Bekah will let her hair grow back, because she’s not afraid anymore. And they’ll mourn what they’ve lost, but they’ll keep going, reckless hate or no.
My favourite books, the best ones, are about Magic and Love. Every so often, I get lucky, and I get a book where they are the same thing. THE WATCHER IN THE SHADOWS was beautiful*. And, I think, there might even be a third one coming? But as with INQUISITOR, it stands quite well on it’s own.
10/10. Fans of Holly Black’s CURSEWORKERS who like practical magic, crime, and family, and fans of Scott Westerfeld’s LEVIATHAN, who like Alternate History will eat these books right up.
*Okay, so the “crime” part of the book is way less intense this time, and if that’s what you’re here for, you may be disappointed. This book is much more about Sacha having feelings and Lily having a brain than anything else. But still.