Curses and gifts...

After being pleasantly surprised by BECOMING A DRUID, the author generously gifted me an Audible code for book 1.5 in his series. I was curious to see what these new adventures would bring. 

4/5 This is an interesting follow up to BECOMING A DRUID that tells a series of shorter stories which further flesh out characters from the previous book while perhaps setting up some things for book 2 in this series (this is technically intermediary/companion novel/novella situation). 

SINS AND SORROWS tells a somewhat non-linear story that is made up of a number of smaller narratives. The book begins with what I would class as three short stories featuring Grahme at different stages in his life. We get to see him before his druid apprenticeship when he lived with one of his brothers, we get a more direct account of the incident which led to his fleeing his first druid master, and we see him after the events of BECOMING A DRUID as he deals with some of the aftermath of his new status within the order. After this short trilogy of tales wrapped up, what I assume is a novella begins with Figol's return to his parents. Things take a violent turn when his mother, Conwenna, and her old friend, Blachstenius are confronted with their past. Conwenna has to make the difficult choice to leave her family so that her homeland does not fall into the hands of people who would do it harm. The adventure that she and Blachstenius go on is filled with action and some light political maneuverings that kept things feeling pretty fast paced. Seemingly running in parallel is the equally tumultuous novella starring Alfswich. I wasn't really expecting to see this character again and it took me longer than it should have for me to realize who this was from BECOMING A DRUID, but his tale was definitely interesting. Because he is such a morally grey (and even somewhat despicable) character, I found it a little tough to be as invested in his quest as I was Conwenna's, but both of their stories introduced a lot of new locations and lore to this world and I will be really interested to see if/how the open threads are followed up on in the next book.  

One of the most appealing aspects of this installment in the series is that we not only reunite with Grahme, but also get a much closer look at characters who had minimal roles in his original quest. That said, the first three stories that center around Grahme added a rather surprising amount to his character. I felt as though these episodes gave us a lot more insight into his youth and also allowed me to have a lot more empathy for him when it came to his problems with authority. I think the story with his old master in particular shed a lot of light on where a lot of his petulance came from and that made me appreciate his character development in BECOMING A DRUID that much more in retrospect. I am also very interested to see what happens with the source of conflict that was introduced in his third story which is set in the present day. It mostly just felt like a tease for things yet to come, but I liked getting this little peak into what might be next for him. 

Conwenna and Blachstenius are two characters who I found quite compelling, but both get fairly minimal page time (with Blachstenuis popping up a bit more) throughout the course of BECOMING A DRUID. Given that they are both Sorim (people who come from a land of people with telepathic abilities), I was pretty keen to learn a bit more about this world's second type of magic as well as spend more time with these rather mysterious and intriguing characters. The adventure that they go on and the way it shapes them as characters definitely did not disappoint. That said, I did take issue with the sort of star-crossed romantic angle between them as they seem to have had some history together from their teenage years that Blachstenius doesn't want to let go of. There is one part in particular after they both experience something rather traumatic where I felt like he really crossed some lines with Conwenna. While the conversation and it's context are rather nuanced, I kind of just felt like he said, "I thought we were friends, why won't you cheat on your husband and have sex with me just this once?!" Again, that is NOT a direct quote from the book by any means, but I just found his sense of entitlement to her, especially when I did not perceive any indication on her end that she was ever going to lie with him, to be gross and it made me think a lot less of his character overall. It probably didn't help that this is the second time we saw a male character lusting after a married woman (which does happen of course, but I am not one to enjoy those kinds of stories) and I was honestly rooting against any potential affair between them from the beginning. I did feel like the aftermath of this fight was handled in an interesting way though and I am definitely hoping that they both have a role to play in TO SPEAK WITH ELDERS.

As I've already mentioned, Alfswich is definitely a less likeable character than really anyone else in this book. This was very much expected as he stole from Grahme the last time we saw him. While I wouldn't go so far as to describe this guy as evil, I would say he is chronically and fatally self-centered. While I felt no investment in his situation or his success in the mission he stumbled into, I was constantly intrigued by what awful thing he would do next either to someone he knew or a complete stranger. The trick with these types of character arcs is to constantly make the actions of the main character more and more shocking. Fortunately, Mollman manages to do that masterfully without getting into anything too grotesque or R-rated and instead relies on twists and duplicity to drive the shock value. While Alfswich's story is engaging enough on it's own, I'm also curious to see what broader implications it might have as the series continues since Alfswitch comes into contact with some pretty influential characters in the world. 

In addition to following characters that previously did not have major roles in BECOMING A DRUID, these stories also go deeper into the world itself. Previously unexplored and underexplored corners are visited in full detail this time around. I really enjoyed learning more about the lands of the Sorim in particular as well as seeing the way that their society has to pick up the pieces after the previous book's climax. There are also some delightfully creepy swamps that the characters are forced to venture into which introduce some darker forms of magic as well as the concept of curses. The twisted hexes that are placed upon some of the characters gave the story a sort of fairy tale vibe which I liked. I also appreciated that there were some clear rules placed upon the way that curses work to help things from getting to confusing or absurd. 

The narrator from BECOMING A DRUID comes back to guide us through these new adventures. I'm not sure if I have just grown more accustomed to his performance, but I felt as though he delivered a crisper narration this time around. The character vocalizations felt a little more varied and there was noticeably less breathing between lines. All in all, it kind of felt like he might be settling into this world and I am curious to see if he gets even better in the next book. 

SINS AND SORROWS isn't your typical follow up in a series, but I rather appreciated the fact that this was a collection of shorter, tightly focused narratives following different characters and exploring different parts of the world. Anyone who enjoyed BECOMING A DRUID absolutely needs to pick this one up. Even people who were a little bit middling on it may find their perception of the series slightly improved by the additional context that SINS AND SORROWS provides. 

(+) Lots of awesome mind magic and some interesting curses
(+) Action and adventure throughout
(+) Compelling lead characters
(+) Exploration of new regions within the world
(+) Some interesting threads left open to possibly tease what's to come
(-) Romantic subplots that I found creepy and hard to buy into 


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