Gilraen and the Guilds by Joanne Reid is the best installment of the Jaralii Chronicles since the original trilogy! It is the fifth installment in the series after Gilraen Returns, a book which left a bit to be desired. Thankfully, Gilraen and the Guilds is much more eventful, and there’s a fresh sense of adventure with it also as our heroine finds herself in a new land.
The reader is dropped right into the armored shoes of Gilraen, in the guise of Gillian Gilaman, as she ventures through a foreign land. This takes Gilraen out of her comfort zone, forcing her to improvise and rely on her wits in dealing with the powerful guilds of Narwortland. The world-building, as usual, is top-notch. The world feels lived-in, full of different ways of speaking (in which parts of speech are sometimes switched), colloquial terms for bees ("shi") and honey ("cyli"), highwaymen, a special currency, and the unique guilds themselves--each one having their own specialty such as smithing, mining, or wizardry. This book is adventurous and imaginative, taking the reader to a whole new land they've never seen or experienced before!
This series of books always polarizes us because there are ways in which it is absolutely incredible and a master-class in world-building, and there are also ways in which we see room for improvement. This is especially evident when it comes to character development and pacing. Gilraen herself is a very polarizing character. Our judges, many of whom have read every other book in the series thus far, have always felt strongly about her. That can be a very good thing. The worst reaction is no reaction at all. There are times we loved and adored her, and times (as in the previous book and at points in this one) that we couldn’t get behind her quite as much. We think it might be because it seems like she reached her zenith or pinnacle earlier in the series. In other words, she is a character who has already undergone her character arc, growing from a stranger in a new world to a strong and capable queen in that world. She marries the love of her life and gets pregnant. She wins huge battles and overcomes every obstacle in her way. You don’t want to go back to the well one too many times. Look at the Terminator series, as great as it is.
Thankfully, this novel does shake things up a bit. In this, Gilraen is essentially a spy. She can’t come right out and overpower everyone as she has in the past as that would blow her cover. Instead, she has to be mindful and tactful. She has to be clever and diplomatic. It’s when Gilraen has to use her mind and cleverness (gained perhaps by Tony’s gaming experience and his experience in the military), that she is at her best and most interesting.
The first half of this book is some of the best work in the series as Gilraen must talk and act like a guild leader of Nartwortland. She must be a problem-solver.
In this book, we were also introduced to a surprisingly compelling character named Merry (Meredith Zochanges), who became our favorite character in the book. She joins Gilraen, William, and Reuben as our favorite characters in the series. There’s just something about her… the way she is so often underestimated and talked down to despite being a young girl with tremendous potential if she’s just given a chance. She’s an underdog, a Cinderella, and everyone loves an underdog and a Cinderella.
Gilraen is not finished as a character. The Adjudicars and their allies still stand in her way, and she truly has a lot to fight for, most of all REVENGE. Something we’d love to see in future installments like Gilraen and the Two Cities and Gilraen Regent is for the author to dig deeper and explore the emotions Gilraen and William experience due to the loss of their loved ones in battle.
As we’ve said in previous reviews, this conflict should be personal–it should be a blood feud. Gilraen and William need and deserve their revenge for Dominica, Richard, Rue, and the elves who were slaughtered/massacred in previous books. And we’re sure the Adjudicars hunger to avenge Cairne and Thandekre as well as Gilraen thwarting every one of their pawns they put in her way.
In a sense, we do see hints of the effects these tragic events had on Gilraen and William. Gilraen is more agitated and William seems depressed and impatient, different from his time as an upbeat, lively prince. Talking to each other clearly raises their spirits, but it doesn’t mask the hurt they feel from the reader.
That’s another wound that really needs to be opened for the sake of raising tension and drama in the series: there feels like there should be more tension in their relationship–a challenge to them being together. Distance is one such challenge, and that’s something both of them wrestle with throughout the story. What other challenges might Gilraen and William face in the future?
We look forward to reading the future installments to find out what happens next!
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