First, since the order of these books can be confusing to those who aren't familiar with them, here is a listing of all the Nine Kingdoms stories:
Two Prelude short stories, found in anthologies with other authors:
The Queen in Winter (When Symon, the first king of Neroche, woos and wins Iolaire)
To Weave a Web of Magic (The Tale of Two Swords where Mehar and Gilraehen fall in love)
Miach and Morgan's story is told in:
1- Star of the Morning (The Nine Kingdoms, Book 1)
2- The Mage's Daughter (The Nine Kingdoms, Book 2)
3- Princess of the Sword (The Nine Kingdoms, Book 3)
Ruith and Sarah's story (which OVERLAPS Miach and Morgan's story in the timeline) is told in:
4- A Tapestry of Spells (The Nine Kingdoms, Book 4)
5- Spellweaver (The Nine Kingdoms, Book 5) (this book)
6- Gift of Magic, due to be published in January 2012
And she's said there are more Nine Kingdoms trilogies planned for successive Januaries.
So! Now that I've got all that hopefully stated clearly...
A Tapestry of Spells (The Nine Kingdoms, Book 4) ended with Ruith and Sarah being separated, right after Sarah discovered who Ruith really was--namely, the youngest son of one of the most evil and powerful black mages history had ever known...and, what was almost worse to her mind, 3/4 elvin prince! Spellweaver begins only hours later, with Sarah, being just the daughter of a village witchwoman, realizing that she has absolutely no right to be feeling anything whatsoever for one of those high and mighty elves, even if he hadn't been a prince...which Ruith most certainly was. The fact that she has no magic whatsoever only cements the fact that her fond feelings for him really should be banished as quickly as she is able to manage the feat. He is clearly far, FAR out of her league, even if he won't admit it.
Sarah does, however, have the gift of seeing...a gift which puzzles Ruith and only adds to her fascination. To him, his heritage is more of a burden and curse than anything else...especially since he doesn't much like the thought that he'll have to keep living for centuries after Sarah's mortal life ends. And so he continues his attempts to avoid his magic and birthright. But reality presses in until he finally realizes that his magic is a tool, and he's got twenty years of lost experience to make up for. Events make it clear that if he doesn't learn fast, he'll most likely lose it to one of the many mages who would gladly claim his magic as their own.
The romance between Sarah and Ruith unfolds more in this book, though it is quieter and takes a back seat to the world-building and character growth. I missed the stronger romance that Miach and Morgan's story had. I still love this installment of Sarah and Ruith's story, though. Spellweaver focuses more on the unfolding of Sarah's gift and the discovery of who she really is. Her gift is one that made me grateful to see the world of the Nine Kingdoms through her eyes. So much beauty! ...running through words and souls and carvings of stone. ...dancing to the music played in the palace of the dwarves. And we get to marvel at it as Sarah learns to use what she sees.
Spellweaver also focuses on Ruith's struggle. Here he is, an elven prince with a library's worth of spells--including all of his father's--rattling around his poor brain. But it is precisely that knowledge that has caused him to bury his magic. It doesn't take Ruith too long, though, to realize that running from his past is childish. No one blames him for doing it when he was 10, but he can certainly do it no longer--especially since he'll need his magic to protect Sarah from those who seek her gift and to protect the world from those who seek his father's evil and powerful spells. But no sooner does he uncap his magic, then he realizes that twenty lost years of practice using it are not going to be made up easily, and his magic is about as unwieldy in his hands as a broadsword would be in the hands of a child. And all the signs are indicating that he's going to need not only all his magic and Sarah's sight, but also more skill than he currently has to best whomever is waiting for him in the far north.
That's what I love about this book. I love the challenge that Ruith is faced with. I love how the Nine Kingdoms world expands. I love the imagery and beauty and how visiting the Nine Kingdoms makes me look at our world a little differently. I love how Ruith is a curious (and humorous) mix of the hermit who lived on the mountain and a proud and glamorous elvin prince who can outfit a room in luxury with a few choice bits of Fadaire.
And I love the setup that this book gives for the finale (coming next year). I love the way this book plays out alongside Princess of the Sword (The Nine Kingdoms, Book 3) in the timeline of the Nine Kingdoms. I love that we have only a tantalizing bit of a hint about who is waiting for Ruith, and I love that the hint both ups the stakes and opens new questions of how? and why? I love that neither Sarah nor Ruith could possibly succeed in their task alone, and I love how Ruith just might be the ONLY one who can do what lies ahead.
I'm giving this one 4-stars as well, since 4 1/2 stars is not possible. This trilogy is not quite as good as Miach and Morgan's trilogy. It moves slowly and gets repetitious in places. But again, the beauty of the writing, the world-building, and the magic moments laced with romance make up for it and still make this an enjoyable book worth re-reading.
Now I just have to be patient all year long until Gift of Magic comes out!
Edited (after Gift of Magic came out) to add:
When a book is part of a trilogy, do you rate each book on its own merits, or do you consider the entire trilogy in the rating? I honestly don't know.
I'm going to leave the above review intact as I originally wrote it. (At least for now.) However, I feel obligated to add this caveat: the final book doesn't fulfill what the first two (especially this one) led me to anticipate. I find myself reading this review and feeling disappointed because that the lead-up excitement I felt wasn't fulfilled.
Am I disappointed in this one now for getting my hopes up? Or am I disappointed in Gift of Magic for not fulfilling everything I hoped it would? Does this one deserve less than a 5-star rating? Or should all the blame rest on Gift of Magic? I'm honestly not sure. I still love Lynn Kurland's writing, so I know I'll end up re-reading the entire trilogy again. I also admit that if I had picked up Gift of Magic from an unknown author, expecting to be disappointed (because I usually am--I'm very picky), I would have liked it quite a bit and been interested in reading more from the author.
But I wasn't. This is an author whose work I generally love, and this book led me to hope for a decent amount in the end of the story...and the end of the story didn't have it.
When I do re-read it (knowing how it'll end this time), I might very well come back and amend the reviews for all three. I don't know. But in the meantime, I feel compelled to at least add this note.