Echoes of Betrayal, which immediately follows Kings of the North in the Paladin's Legacy series (which constitutes a continuation of the Paksenarrion trilogy), is a masterpiece of reversals, revelations, rising actions, heartbreak and hope. In each of the four major storylines, the main characters find themselves betrayed or sabotaged, either at the start or by the end.
Since Arvid was in the worst situation when last we parted, it is only fair that the book starts with him as we left him: captured, robbed, tied up and sentenced to death. Arvid is the thief who took pity on Paksenarrion when she was being tortured, and ever since he intervened on her behalf he has heard, on occasion, the voice of a god in his head, as uncomfortable as ever Pinocchio found a conscience to be, as uncompromising as the visitation in C.S. Lewis' The Pilgrim's Regress. With the oh-so-subtle assistance of that deity, Arvid and the gnome who travels with him escape, and Arvid sets out to execute the Master Thief who betrayed him. Arvid has been my favorite character for a while, and his story carries the biggest emotional payoff this time round. His adventure was so heart-grabbing that every time the author left him to tell what was happening elsewhere, I skipped ahead to the next Arvid chapter. Then I backtracked and read the rest of the book after the AMAZING!!!!! conclusion of his story arc.
Kieri Phelan and Arian, in Lyonya, have the aftermath of devastating dragon fire to deal with, not to mention Pargunese invaders under the coercion of Achyran spider demons. Oh, joy. And the bones of Kieri's family continue to warn him of elven treachery. Kieri makes a discovery about the original dealings between humans and elves that forces him to rethink everything he thought he knew, as the power of love contends with the dark and terrible power of malice.
In a time of sorrow and death, Kieri finally chooses to risk breaking his alliance with the elves by contacting the Kuakkgani, the tree shepherds, who prove to be considerably more forthcoming than the unreliable but glamorous elves. The dragon is by far the most impressive of all the magical creatures encountered in this series, the spiders are the creepiest, the gnomes are the most intriguing, but the Kuakkgani are by far the most fun.
Meanwhile, in the kingdom of Tsaia, Kieri's former captain Dorrin, now Duke Verrakai, is in a hard position. She is still cleaning up the deadly magics her relatives inflicted on the kingdom, and simultaneously trying to train up a guard force sufficient to defend Tsaia and to go to the aid of King Mikeli's allies. Dorrin has the most foresight of all the main characters; she understands that any peace is temporary, and that it is only a matter of time before a former ally attacks both kingdoms in a bid to become emperor. But the other nobles of Tsaia regard her with suspicion, and they ignore her directions for defense and preparation. Inevitably, when things go wrong, the very nobles whose inaction precipitated the tragedy blame Dorrin for their losses. Dorrin has her unbreakable integrity, but that is cold comfort when your kingdom is crumbling and lots of men tell lies about you in loud voices while their wives whisper behind your back.
Arcolin and the rest of Fox Company, as the most mobile unit, interact with all the other storylines as messengers, warriors, and agents of change. They prove pivotal time and again, and I suspect they will have an even bigger role to play in the future.
This is a wonderful series; the next volume cannot come soon enough.