The Charmed Sphere
The kingdom of Aronsdale is at a crossroads. The king is dying and his heir needs a queen. So to the castle of Sun Croft two girls are brought: Chime Headwind and Iris Larkspur. Both have mage power and are groomed to be queen. Chime, the apparently stronger mage, is tentatively promised to the king’s heir Muller Dawnfield and they quickly form an attachment. While both are apprehensive about becoming king and queen, they feel together they might be able to manage it. Then one day Iris shows her true power, not only displacing Chime as future the queen, but finding the king’s true heir, his grandson and Muller’s cousin, Jarid.
This changes Chime and Muller’s destinies and puts their relationship in peril. For as a powerful mage, it is preferred that Chime has a husband who will not monopolize her time. Muller as heir to the throne (until Jarid and Iris produce a child) will be very active in the government and in need of a wife who can devote her time to him and politics. But Chime and Muller are in love and will allow no one to keep them apart.
Unfortunately this all comes at a chaotic time, when the neighboring kingdom of Harsdown is desperate to take over the lush and rich land of Aronsdale. King Varquelle has never been able to attack Aronsdale before because of the advantage the mages give it, but he now has a mage of his own, Anvil the Forged, who wants revenge on his homeland.
I really wanted to like this story, but I am a reader who prefers stories that are character driven, and unfortunately in this book Asaro has her characters take a back seat to her world building. Which would be fine – except the world-building and plot also seem to take a backseat to the character development. In other words, too much is going on and everyone gets gypped. For example, the main characters in this story are Chime and Muller, and on one page are they are exploring their relationship, and on the next page that is dropped to deal with the constitutional crisis that has arisen with the discovery of the long lost heir to the thrown, Jarid Dawnfield. Just when that story gets going it is cut off to explore Jarid’s dark past, which is then halted as Iris’s power is discussed, only to jump to Harsdown and the villainous mage, Anvil. As a reader I found it hard to connect with the story and the characters when I was continually being cut off at the pass whenever anything got interesting.
And yet Asaro has a wonderful talent for painting pictures and creating a tale, which probably accounts for my frustration with this story. I was fascinated by the world she was building, where mages focus their power through shapes to help their people. I liked the characters of the headstrong Chime, who speaks before she thinks, but has a good heart, and Muller, on the surface a shallow clotheshorse, but underneath a man devoted to his kingdom and willing to sacrifice his position in society for the greater good. It’s the little moments, in the story, such as Chime picking flowers or King Jarid learning to tell jokes that make the story.
In the end The Charmed Sphere is that mixed bag of a book. I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Asaro’s past works, specifically The Phoenix Code and The Veiled Web. Perhaps had she narrowed her focus or spread the story over two books and been able to explore each issue or character in depth I’d have enjoyed it more. It’s a book that left me looking for more and frustrated because of it, and so it’s one I cannot truly recommend.