In the world of Cradle, family is everything. It shapes your destiny by defining your powers and your path. It determines who you can trust, and who you must fight. For Yerin and Lindon, being adopted into the Aurelius family has done all this and more.
This is the first time I have listened to, or reviewed, the audiobook version of one of Will Wight’s books. I was emailed asking if I wanted a review copy of the audiobook, and despite generally preferring reading to listening for mental bandwidth reasons, I agreed to give it a try this time. I was planning on reviewing the book anyhow, having purchased the ebook on Kindle on my own, but since audio has been gaining in popularity recently I thought I would see what all the fuss is about.
I still think I prefer reading, but I did really enjoy the narration of Travis Baldree. His voice work is excellent, with each character easily distinguishable in terms of accent and inflection. My favorite by far is Akura Fury, who I imagined as something like an aging surfer dude from reading the book first, which is very much the mode in which Baldree voices him. Well, if an aging surfer dude had phenomenal cosmic powers. Now, when I read the Cradle series, I am going to hear Baldree’s voices.
Now, on to the book! Uncrowned gives a clearer look at the highest levels of advancement on Cradle. When Lindon started out in Sacred Valley, Gold was nothing but a rumor, spoken of only in myth and legend. When Lindon’s fate was altered by the return of one of the lucky few who managed sufficient mastery of the Sacred Arts to ascend beyond his homeworld into the Heavens, we got a glimpse of just how far one could go, especially when Suriel, Judge of the Abidan, intervened and dealt with the ascended one as easily as one of Lindon’s clan Elders might have dealt with him, an Unsouled.
That intervention was the key event in Lindon’s life, setting him on the path that brings him to the Uncrowned King tournament. However, in some as yet unrevealed fashion, this event also altered the fate of everything else in creation. Through the eyes of Suriel, Lindon’s savior, and later Makiel, we have slowly seen an unfolding of what amounts to the politics of Heaven. Although the Abidan, composed of those Sacred Artists of a thousand worlds who have grown powerful enough to leave the world of their birth, would surely insist that they are above the petty concerns of the mere mortals they have left behind, in practice their relations with one another are much the same as we see on Cradle. Endless jockeying for position and status internally, and ruthless war against anyone outside of their circle of trust.
Admittedly, the Abidan do seem to have intellect and foresight that have grown in concert with their power. However, it is not at all clear that they will not face a reckoning for their hubris. The Abidan face a celestial nemesis, the Vroshir, with sufficient power to contest their control of the Iterations. The Abidan expanded their territory far beyond what could be maintained, and the Vroshir are ready to take advantage of that. It also seems clear that Lindon and his friends will have some part to play in the coming Götterdämmerung. This anticipation is one of the most delicious bits of Cradle. We know that eventually Lindon will ascend to the Heavens, and his reflexive crouch towards everyone will be hilarious.
And in some curious way, this may all turn upon that most familiar and prosaic of institutions: the family.
In the clannish shame culture of Cradle, an intense source of social pressure comes from the fear of not living up to the expectations set down by your ancestors. However, since sufficient advancement in the Sacred Arts also results in unusually long life, that social pressure can become quite personal, since the revered ancestor can make their disapproval known in person.
Any individual of sufficient advancement can not only found a dynasty, but personally lead that family in its struggles for supremacy. This neatly solves the typical succession problems arising from regression to the mean by making successors superfluous. What makes me really curious is the question of whether any of the Abidan have children? Particularly the Judges, the council of seven who rule. The only one we know of who did is Ozriel, distant ancestor to Eithan Aurelius, and Ozriel was always at odds with his fellows.
It was the disappearance of Ozriel that brought Suriel to Cradle in the first place, which then brought Lindon to her attention, setting in motion the events that bring us here. Ozriel seems to have been interested in his descendants in a personal way, which is very different than the way Makiel, Suriel’s opponent among the Abidan deals with the rest of humanity. I’m curious to know if Wight intended for Makiel to have been a father before he ascended to the Heavens, because it certainly seems that he is missing that most basic of all connections to humanity.
Which brings us to the real monster of Cradle: Eithan. Lindon continually surprises people with his determination and his power, not to mention his appearance. But Eithan is capable of far more, including the ability to deceive others about his true intentions and capabilities. I first truly grew suspicious in book four, when Eithan effortlessly foiled every attempt of the humiliated Jai Underlord to seek revenge upon Eithan. Until he let him bring a forbidden treasure from the Western Labyrinth and thereby awaken the Dreadgods. I’m not sure that is really what he meant to do, but I can’t discount it either.
Everything is subsumed in his goal: his dandyish appearance, his recruitment of Eithan and Yerin, even his failures seem to advance his goals. It is not that Eithan never makes mistakes or is never thwarted, never in danger. It is that absolutely everything slides off of him. Here, in Uncrowned, we get hints that Eithan, while technically an Underlord, already has glimpses of power far above his current level. Faint echoes of the power of Ozriel, his ancestor. It actually seems that Eithan might have some limited ability to see the future. Enough, in fact, that he can deflect attention from himself when someone notices this about him. Lindon is the star of the show, but Eithan is the director.
As always, waiting is such sweet sorrow, but I trust that Wight will keep to his current schedule and treat us to further adventures and further revelations in the future.
Other books by Will Wight
Traveler’s Gate series: