Review: The Hidden Masters of Marandur by Jack Campbell

hidden masters of marandurThe Hidden Masters of Marandur by Jack Campbell
Series: The Pillars of Reality #2
Genre: Fantasy/Science Fiction
Release Date: Feb 10, 2015
Audiobook Narrated by: MacLeod Andrews

Someone wants to kill Mari, a young Steam Mechanic in the Guild that controls all technology. She has learned that her world of Dematr is headed for a catastrophe that will destroy civilization, and that Mages really can alter reality for short periods. Someone also wants to kill Alain, a young Mage who has learned that Mechanics are not frauds as his Guild teaches, and that Mechanic Mari is the only person who can prevent the oncoming disaster.

Narrowly escaping death, the Mechanic and the Mage stay alive thanks to their combined skills, an alliance never before seen. But it becomes clear that both of their Guilds, the most powerful forces in the world, are trying to destroy them. Other powers, like the great Empire and a mysterious secret Order, also seek to kill or capture them, using every weapon from Imperial Legions to Mage-created trolls, dragons, and rocs.

Trying to survive and learn the truth about their world so they will know how to save it, Mari and Alain realize that the answers they seek may lie in the dead city of Marandur. But Marandur is guarded by the legions that have sealed it off from the rest of the world for more than a century. Mari and Alain’s only hope may rest with the unseen Masters of Marandur.

D.G.’s Rating: 4.5 skulls = A-

Ever since I first discovered this series, I’ve read each book multiple times, which is EXTREMELY rare for me. But this series is just so good that whenever I find myself in a funk, I start the series all over.

At the end of The Dragons of Dorcastle, Alain & Mari decided to separate in order to save each other’s lives. Their guilds were highly suspicious of the time they spent together so they realized that if their guilds discovered they are in love, they would be signing their death warrants. However, even after keeping their nose clean for several months, it’s clear their guilds decided to kill them anyway. Mari discovers this first and decides to look for Alain, even though after a separation of several months, she’s not sure if his feelings are the same.

Since departing from Mari, Alain has missed the companionship and conversation of others and he fears that his Elders have detected the changes in him. When he’s contracted to fight against the Empire, he can’t help but talk to the General in charge, a very unusual move for a mage. Once Mari arrives and the General finds out that she’s Alain’s friend, his amazement knows no bounds until he remembers the rumors that are circulating about the Daughter of the Prophesy. It doesn’t take him long to figure out that she’s the young woman all the commons are talking about.

Soon enough, Mari and Alain undertake a dangerous trip to get answers. Mari still hopes to fix the situation with her guild but as they travel as commons with many different factions after them, that hope dwindles more and more. During a good chunk of the book, Mari and Alain are still at crossroads about the prophesy, with her refusing to hear anything he has to say about it because she thinks he’s talking about something else and he believing that she knows what he wants to tell her.

In this book Mari starts gathering some allies, even though she doesn’t even know she’ll need them. She has mechanic friends who are willing to follow her but it’s Alain who helps with the commons and mages – he’s come so far since the first book where he was so unemotional! As soon as the General finds out Mari’s identity, he pledges his allegiance, and even though the Mage training tried to destroy all connection between the Mage acolytes, Alain discovers he has a mage friend who’s willing to risk her life to help him.

During this time, we learn a lot more about Alain & Mari’s personality. Mari has some really good qualities but a few of her bad ones come to the fore: she’s jealous, impatient, sulky and irrational at times. You can understand that she’s under a lot of pressure but Alain is so nice that you feel bad for him when Mari is in one of her moods. Because of his training as a Mage, testosterone doesn’t get in Alain’s way: he never gets offended, he’s extremely calm under pressure, he doesn’t feel the need to boss around because he’s the guy and he listens to her and values her input:

For many years, I listened only to the elders. When I met you, when you spoke to me, I realized that other voices should also be heard. Your words, your actions, showed me that what I’ve been told for twelve years as a Mage acolyte was not all that was worth knowing.

On top of that, Alain makes an effort to show some emotion even though he fears for his powers – he’s quietly romantic and even has a dry sense of humor (shocker!) Besides some issues with social skills, Alain is so freaking good that it’s almost painful. The most touching parts of the book are actually due to him, as he’s trying to  feel again and understand others around him.

I can’t say enough good things about MacLeod Andrews’ narration. It’s so nuanced and inspired! There’s a moment when Mari is wondering why his guild is so threatened by her because she’s “low in ammunition when it comes to physical charms” and Alain responds “You are beautiful beyond all other women”. The way Mr. Andrews delivered that line, with a mix of total sincerity and bafflement, as if she’s crazy to even doubt her charms was so freaking perfect! There are many such moments throughout the book where Mr. Andrews imbues a phrase or word with so much meaning that it almost breaks your heart.

Like the last book, there’s lost of action so if that’s what you like in your books, it won’t be disappointed by this one.

Series Reading Order
1. The Dragons of Dorcastle
2. The Hidden Masters of Marandur
3. The Assassins of Altis
4. The Pirates of Pacta Sarvanda

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