I enjoyed The Talents 2 even more than The Talents 1. I had recently re-read the first book, but that was neither necessary nor fundamental to my heightened appreciation of this sequel. The author thoughtfully provides a recap of the first volume at the start (along with a useful catalogue of the characters) and that is sufficient to reset the scene. Perhaps because the story already has momentum, the sequel sets off with added impetus and the reader is immediately immersed into the adventure.
The book begins by going back beyond its precursor, one of numerous unexpected constituents that add extra storytelling spice to the epic. And epic is certainly an apt descriptor. At almost eight hundred pages this is no lightweight whim, but the paper brick is an entirely fitting format for the second part of a chronicle that legitimately resides on the quality fantasy shelf, alongside works by J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis or Philip Pullman.
The physical bulk is symbolic of the value of the piece. This is not something stitched together over a season, this tale of a land under two suns has taken many, many moons to mature, and its ingredients have fused and fermented into a mix that nourishes the soul, invigorates the consciousness and infuses the imagination. Book One certainly had its startling moments, and here those kicks are delivered even more assuredly.
McGarrigle is a thoughtful author, but one whose opinions are inextricably tied to the emotions, so once again we are served with philosophy laced with romance, ideology sinewed to melancholy and satisfaction skewed by perspective. The weighty serious stuff is delicately counterbalanced by a unique levity; a humour that is both deft and daft in equally delightful ways.
The plethora of characters is so extensive that it requires a certain amount of shepherding in the mind, but they bring a marvellous miscellany of ability and hence provide entertaining variations on the common eponymous theme – that everyone has a hidden talent – and misfortune can provide the key to its realisation.
The tale has a pleasing rhythm, galloping here, languishing there but all carried on a wave of contrast that allows the reader to recover without becoming becalmed for too long. Boredom is banished, premonition pre-empted. Just when you think you know where the story is going the wild invention turns even more audacious. I especially enjoyed the ‘infinity seat’, the blatant wit, and the wacky combat manoeuvres and consequences.
Every strong story contains setbacks and sadness, and ‘Fugitives and Pioneers’ has those, and they are awarded due solemnity and reverence, but it is a persistently positive tale. Friendship is the foundation of the hopeful melody at the core of this creation. There are many examples of one character encouraging another in their pursuit of fulfilment despite the weight of dismay, regret and fractured hope holding them back; but there are also painful interludes that pierce acutely. There are barbed thorns that dig deep.
The imagined world of Pandos is lavishly created. The flora and fauna are made manifest with a flourish akin to that in the best cinematic animation. They are manipulated with consummate expertise to amuse, fascinate and charm. The geological and architectural environment has a graphic vitality hewn from folktale forests and medieval mountains. The moral, the meaning and the eternal veracities of this work, however, are evident in the here and now and it is that revelation that is the true worth of this book. This fiction is reconstituted fact.
The story is, above all, rooted in the best tradition of storytelling. It is escapist, surprising, sustaining, amusing and moving. I gasped, laughed, and became entranced. The best books enchant. I savoured the spell.
If fantasy fails to fool your imagination, then do not prise open this parcel of other-worldly wonders. Magic is the motor here, but see beyond the super superficial, and you will find truth, beauty and self-belief extracted and reconstructed with skill, sweat, generosity and love, set in a wondrously imagined biosphere, but unquestionably mined from the talents of those who strive in the world where we reside.
Read my review of The Talents Book One here: Tick-Wok
The Talents ‘Fugitives and Pioneers’ can be found via the links below: