We're finally reaching the end of the Deverry saga with The Shadow Isle, the penultimate book in the series (the last is due to be published in October 2009). There is a sense of Katharine Kerr pulling together all those strands to finish off the series effectively, but some mysteries are still to be resolved. One thing I am glad of is that I don't actually know what Kerr will do to finish the story - although the Horsekin are currently 'evil', there has been enough switching sides and distinctions made between Horsekin and Gel da Thae for us to realise that no one is outright evil and everybody can be redeemed. In fact, this has been a theme running through the whole Deverry sequence - the idea that all beings (whether human, dwarf, Elcyion Lacar, Horsekin) have the ability to turn to good.
This book picks up where the previous left off - this is another feature of this last 'Act'. Each of the books drives forwards the plot and we rarely have any sequences now that take place in the past. We see Branna and Neb as part of the plot showing the Deverrians gear up for war and discover that the Horsekin are once again on the move. As part of this section, there is a subplot that deals with Neb and his fierce desire to become Nevyn once more. At times I felt like shaking Neb for his stupidity, but I found the resolution to be both sound and moving - the idea that Salamander has finally grown into a true dweomermaster and Wise One is very touching.
The main bulk of the book deals with the return of Haen Marn, and the introduction to the story of Rhodry's daughters Marnmara and Berwynna. Neither of these characters starts out as being someone I want to read more of - Marnmara is spoilt and Berwynna is envious and headstrong. As is usual, I do find myself warming to them over time though! This is one of Kerr's greatest strengths - she shows no fear in giving her characters real motivations and reactions, knowing that this may cause them to read in an unpleasant manner.
The last thread of the plot is concerning Rori and his mixed thoughts on whether he wants to remain a dragon. The book that may or may not hold the key to turning him back is currently lost, just one of the many plot points that Kerr will have to resolve in the final book. The others would include solving who or what Avain truly is, and uncovering the mystery of the otter shapeshifters that have stolen Kov.
Once again, a solid addition to the overall series. In my opinion Kerr has never reached the heights of her first quartet (starting with Daggerspell). The characters and events of those four books seemed to complete the series very effectively, and everything that has come after is just adding for the sake of it. Having said that, all the books are very readable. Still filled with details of medieval life, still characters that bring the events to life, still epic events. I look forward impatiently to the release of the final book.