Treason in Eswy begins shortly after Nightwalker’s conclusion, not surprisingly, but it immediately introduces new central characters and a narrative technique that Johansen uses effectively throughout the remainder of the series: first-person alternating narration. The story opens with Korby, a “barbarian” Fenlander, telling his “account of the treason in Eswy” (1); the second section is “the account of Eleanor of Eswy” (9) of the same situation, but different places and incidents. The tale is thus presented in retrospect, which helps the young or nervous reader to know that ultimately all turns out well. Once again, there is little other narrative certainty of a positive outcome, which adds effectively to the suspense and discomfiture caused by the political intrigues described.
Johansen’s carefully constructed world is not expanding, so much as we are being shown more of it; reading Treason in Eswy, we are once more under the strong impression that her world exists fait accompli, with a intricate history and myriad cultures that we have yet to be introduced to. Slowly as we read, we learn the relationships between the players: Korby and Eleanor we have just met, and Robin and Fuallia of the Westwood we meet later. But it is the characters we already know well—Maurey, Annot, and Romner—who work ceaselessly towards their multiple goals, all aimed at solidifying the tenuous peace and goodwill that exists between Dunmorra and the Nightwalkers’ Talverdin.
Korby’s opening scene introduces a serious threat to that peace: a mysterious group? person? called Yehillon, and humans who can enter the half-world. The secrets of the Yehillon are ultimately revealed over the course of this book and the next, Warden of Greyrock (2009), through the visions of the Fen-witch Korby, Maurey and Korby’s espionage, Romner’s alchemical experiments, and Annot’s historical and anthropological research. This effective combination of magic, military prowess, and intellectual ability is a powerful tool in the creation of an alternate-world fantasy with such a strong sense of realism. The successful historicity is also doubtless a result of Johansen’s Masters degree in Medieval History, but it takes both knowledge and narrative skill to create such a coherent and fascinating world.
In the second plotline of the tale, Eleanor, the princess of Eswy, betrothed to King Dugald of Dunmorra, is a pawn in a battle of power played out between her parents: her mother belongs to a joyless “Penitent” sect, and has no qualms about using her daughter to further her own religious and political agenda; her father is acting in her best interests, and those of his country, but counter to the plans of a corrupt baron, who wants both Eleanor and the crown for his own. When Eleanor’s narration begins, her brother, Lovell, heir to the throne, has just been murdered, setting in motion a sequence of events that further threatens the unstable peace of Eswiland. Three different powers vie for Eleanor’s hand, resulting in her functional kidnapping by her mother; Eleanor, more intelligent and capable than any believe, has other plans. Korby and Maurey’s activities as spies for Dunmorra naturally intersect with Eleanor’s escape and flight, and the two plots—the two narrative perspectives—are given equal weight until they coalesce in the safe arrival of Eleanor in Dugald’s realm. While this is the denouement of one of the plotlines, the Yehillon remain both a mystery and a threat, and the book ends with Korby leaving, again acting as a spy, for foreign lands. Where Nightwalker presents a satisfactory sense of closure, Treason in Eswy does not: thank goodness Warden of Greyrock was already published when I read the series, as I would really have resented waiting for the necessary continuation of the story.