In a (welcome, to me) return to the scope and texture of the earlier adventures of Alec and Seregil, Casket of Souls keeps the boys at home, Nightrunning and intriguing and reestablishing their place in Rhiminee society. Part of that entails a visit with their old friend Lady Kylith to a run-down theatre in a terrible part of town, which turns into something more when the acting troupe turns out to be truly remarkable. Shortly Seregil finds himself inveigled into sponsoring the charming lead actor, Atre, and his troupe… but there are a few things he doesn’t know about his new project. There are a few things the two lead actors take care no one knows, not even the rest of the troupe.
Meanwhile, the Nightrunner pair find themselves, with Thero, embroiled (along with being inveigled) in plots both for and against Klia, the Queen’s sister. Klia is not the heir to the throne, and doesn’t want to be – but there is a faction who prefers her, and they’re beginning to take action toward that end. They are, of course, balanced by another faction who will do anything to prevent that end, up to and including killing Klia. She’s miles away, with only Micum’s daughter Beka and her Faie husband to act on behalf of the Watchers… And Thero, one broken message wand away. It takes a great deal of Nightrunning to begin to untangle the threads of who among the nobles is involved, and on which side, and this is great. This is where these characters really shine.
The plague that is rising in the poor quarters of the city is troubling. The poor are, of course, in fear of their lives. Everyone else is afraid that it will spread, or that it will affect their trade. Alec and Seregil come across a very young victim, and this puts a child’s face on the plague that makes it personal for them. They just don’t realize how personal. What with everything else going on, they just don’t have time to deal with the strange aspect of this plague that so merits investigation – but, inevitably, they find they have no choice in the matter. And, happily, this also involves disguises and chases and getting into where they shouldn’t be, so it’s all great fun as well – – until it isn’t fun anymore, and that’s a good thing too. (Well, you wouldn’t want me to spoil the story by explaining that, would you?)
When all’s said and done, I simply did not enjoy the last two books of this series as much as the rest. I don’t really consider physical and mental torture of characters I like as a recreational sport; while I love a good escape story the rest of it just made it hard to read. Too, I missed the other characters – Thero, and Micum and his family, are a big part of why I’m as fond of the series as I am. Casket of Souls circles back to the beginning of the series, in a way, taking Alec and Seregil back to where we met them, scaling walls and picking locks and – as always – evading dogs, and walking the fine line between serving the Queen and attracting her attention, because that’s rarely a good thing. It’s a terrific adventure fantasy with some great characters in a wonderfully well-built world. Really, at times that’s all you need.