When one quest leads to another...

The official second book in THE PROTECTORS OF PRETTANI series is one that I was very curious to get into after taking a short break from it to join a readathon. 

4/5 TO SPEAK WITH ELDERS didn't live up to all of my expectations coming out of SINS AND SORROWS, but I still very much enjoyed joining Grahme for another adventure. 

Things kick off pretty much immediately after the events of SINS AND SORROWS (perhaps parts of it even overlap, the timeline wasn't completely clear to me). What threw me off the most is how little characters and events from the previous two books played a meaningful role in this story. In some ways, SINS AND SORROWS felt like essential reading prior to TO SPEAK WITH ELDERS, but in others, those events seemed rather inconsequential. Certain details would definitely be confusing without the prior context of Book 1.5, but I was really hoping for more connection points, especially since things seemed to be converging around all the Sorim political intrigue. Grahme's current adventure, instead takes him off in an entirely different direction which introduces brand new characters, takes us to new parts of the world, and even introduces some new types of magic. The longer this book sits with me, the more I think I appreciate all the newness. At the time I read it though, I definitely found myself wishing that there was more follow up on things that had previously been introduced. Some of this is just misaligned expectations and some of it probably had to do with some things I had going on at the time, but I struggled to find get fully engrossed in certain sections of this one. 

After joining the rest of the druid council for a summit, Grahme finds himself going on another quest, which then leads to another quest, and then another. Needless to say, the plot took some interesting turns. I appreciated all the layers of this story even though I wasn't always fully invested and definitely felt bad for Grahme as one thing piled on top of another for him. Those who liked the pacing and overall format of BECOMING A DRUID will feel right at home here, but Mollman does enough to play with the adventure-quest formula this time around where this doesn't simply feel like a repeat of the first book. It's also clear to me that the author is building up to something even larger than I'd originally thought this series aspired to. There's a whole world being crafted here and lots of moving parts that will likely only grow in importance later. I've never really been a patient reader who "trusts the process," but now that I have read all the currently available books in this series, I do find myself rather eager to see what will come next.  

As with the previous two books, the characters are a mix of exceptional and somewhat forgettable. The way that Grahme is handled this time around really impressed me. He's still a somewhat haughty fellow who feels true to the impetuous, young druid-in-training that we met in the first book, but the ways in which he has matured as a person felt quite satisfying. It can be a very difficult thing to balance character growth with who they previously were as a character and I think that is managed brilliantly here. Another huge highlight of the cast is that Figol finally gets to join his uncle for pretty much the entire duration of the journey. Much of the plot centers around Grahme's promise to do everything he can to get Figol admitted into the druids. While I felt like Grahme embraced the stern mentor figure a little too enthusiastically at times, I really enjoyed his relationship with his nephew and their dynamic definitely kept me engaged even during parts of the adventure that didn't capture me as much. I also thought the dilemma surrounding whether Figol should be allowed to become a druid was quite interesting and I constantly found myself questioning where I stood on the issue given his telepathic powers, familial ties to a Sorim royal family, and certain choices he made along the journey that juxtaposed his otherwise calm and caring personality which would seemingly make him an ideal candidate for the order.

The side cast is where things got a little mixed. Characters from previous books don't really show up a whole lot for this story. Even the council of druids mostly only plays a role in the beginning and end chapters. Fortunately, there are some very interesting newcomers. The shapeshifting Bodmin was a particular standout for me as well as other members of his family that I won't spoil. The centaur characters that play a part in the latter half of the book were all fantastic and I found their culture super interesting. On the flipside, there were some that were equally forgettable, in my opinion. There are two women who appear earlier on that I didn't really connect with in any way and I kept literally forgetting their names even when they were still an active part of the story. Some of this may have just been my state of mind while reading these sections, but I think to some extent at least they could have been more interesting and distinct. Similarly, there are some antagonistic characters who are dealt with faster than I would have liked which sort of sullied the sense of triumph in their defeat. I was also surprised that one with particular relevance to Figol did not leave a bigger splash (even though that was kind of explained).  

As I mentioned before, this story is less about revisiting already travelled ground, and much more interested in taking readers to brand new corners of this world. While that may not have been what I was expecting, the journey ventures into some fascinating new locations that I very much enjoyed learning about. The city of the Emerald Druids was maybe my least favorite of them all, but it was still a cool starting place for the quest. I also think the politics of this particular location made up for anything I found uninteresting about it and I found it pretty entertaining that Grahme unwittingly gets himself wrapped up in their war with the demon summoners. The place in which The Nine hold summits was a bit more interesting to me and it almost reminded me of a tranquil shrine or hideaway that one might find in Middle Earth. The bog that Bodmin dwells in had a cool, moody atmosphere and I liked the woodland shack that they travel with him to later in the story. Chief among all the new geography though, has to be the land of the centaurs. There is a vaguely dystopian human kingdom  that I found intriguing and then, of course, the sprawling tented metropolis of the half-horse-half-human folk. I loved how the construction of this place fit the tribal nature of the centaur society while also feeling rather civilized in it's own, brutal way. 

In addition to some new parts of the world, there are also some new forms of magic. Figol's mental powers are expanded upon in some intriguing ways and we also learn about some deeply disturbing uses of it thanks to some of the mental manipulations his own mother placed on him (which certainly made me see her in a new light). There is also some very creepy demon magic. I don't normally love magic systems that are based around demons, but this one is handled pretty well and there were some surprising rules as well as possibilities defined around it that kept me wanting to learn more. While the centaurs themselves don't seem to wield any magic, I always love when magical creatures are introduced. There is another very popular type of mythological creature that I think people will be happy to see, but I don't want to spoil what that is (the centaurs are on the cover, so I feel pretty comfortable talking about them). All in all, things feel so much bigger and there is a sense of magic beyond just the druidic abilities. I have a feeling that there is even more that Mollman intends to explore in this series and I very much look forward to learning more about Prettani as well as it's neighboring nations in the future. 

There isn't a whole ton more to say on the audio performance that I haven't already said. If you liked it in the previous two books, then I think you will find it just as enjoyable this time around (and if you didn't, then I suppose you won't this time either). I do appreciate the consistency of having the same person perform all three of the books and was yet again blown away that he sings us another song in the middle of one of the chapters (and does it quite well). Consuming the story in this format made it a light, easy read for my car rides or walks and I really enjoyed having some clean fantasy to take with me on the move. 

TO SPEAK WITH ELDERS serves as a worthy successor to the first book in the series. It expands upon some of the series' strengths while still falling to some of it's initial pitfalls and not always meeting my expectations in terms of it's connections to previous books (though, again, some of this might have to do with me not being fully clear on how it fits into the timeline with SINS AND SORROWS). If you've been enjoying the series so far, then you absolutely have to read this one since it expands the world in interesting ways and introduces some great new characters as well. 
(+) Interesting expansion on the types of magic in this world
(+) Action and adventure throughout
(+) Compelling lead characters
(+) A handful of spectacular side characters
(+) Exploration of fascinating new regions within the world
(+) Some interesting teases at things to come
(+) Centaurs (need I say more?)
(-) Some side characters that were forgettable and some villains that didn't reach their full potential
(-) Certain parts of the plot that I didn't mesh with as much as I wanted
(-) I'd hoped for more concrete connections with previous books


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