Genre writers are encouraged to build a brand by writing a series of books instead of stand-alone books. The nature of cliff-hangers means some characters have unresolved story lines at the end of Book I, like Darth Vadar who survives when the death star is destroyed. Why waste a well-drawn bad guy in a single catastrophe?
Today’s trend is to leave unresolved story lines over several books like GRR Martin’s Game of Thrones that gives the reader episodic morsels following four related main characters (after he killed off the hero types). I like to think writers today are experimenting with stereotypes and resisting the expected ending with surprises and anti-heroes.
Some series writers provide an ending twist where characters struggle against the undead over 300-pages to a deserted island, but come up empty-handed for the needed talisman to save the empire, as in Abercrombie’s Before They are Hanged. Somehow I felt betrayed. I had invested a whole afternoon but had no denouement for my time spent.
So when the story in The Anvil of the World neatly tied up all concerns into a hopeful package at the end, I had this odd sense of satisfaction, a feature that was once a prerequisite to securing a publishing deal. Hurrah for self-publishing!
Kage Baker’s story is targeted for younger readers and rides along on jeopardy and humor while an unseen bad influence pursues the extended family of Smiths. The caravan colleagues flee danger to open a hotel in a seedy part of town while characters discover they are really blood relatives. Even the demons are siblings. It seems that survivors of armed conflicts from decades ago hid babies in brothels, only to find the current kitchen waif is that very child grown into a malleable girl. Vapors of Charles Dickens.
So the third episode means the (now related) humans serve a squabble that has erupted among the demons, and our hero Smith provides the key that erases the troublesome human race, but refuses to use it, cutting off his own arm. The friends (human and demon) repair back to the hotel where, lo and behold, the kitchen waif gives birth to a child destined to redeem the race.
If this storyline seems forced, it was. The characters are well-drawn, though, with humor and surprise to provide enough entertainment along the way that I can recommend Kage Baker’s story to the YA audience who aren’t as jaded on archetypal fantasy as this reader.