Slaves of the Mastery

Slaves of the Mastery

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, The Wind Singer. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Slaves of the Mastery was written by William Nicholson and first published in 2001. It forms the second part of the critically acclaimed Wind on Fire Trilogy and was preceded by Smarties Book Prize winner The Wind Singer (2000) and followed by Firesong (2002). The story picks up five years after the conclusion of The Wind Singer and I would strongly advise reading this novel first as Slaves of the Mastery does not really stand well on its own.

Following the defeat of the Morah, the Manth people have enjoyed five years of peace and happiness. Although the city is prospering, Kestrel and Bowman both feel uneasy. As they are now fifteen society expects them both to find a partner and settle down but they do not seem to fit in with the other teenagers. They feel almost as though something is missing from their lives.

The harmony of Aramanth is destroyed in an instant as they are invaded by the vicious forces of the Mastery. Led by a young general called Marius Semeon Ortiz, they burn the city to the ground and take all of the survivors captive. Separated from her family, Kestrel is forced to survive in the ruins of her home. She knows that she must find her family but things begin to look hopeless as hunger and thirst set in.

Meanwhile, the rest of her family have been taken to the High Domain, seat of the Mastery’s power. They know that they must escape but the Mastery’s wealth is seductive and the Manth people soon feel reluctant to leave. It is up to Bowman to learn the secrets of his Singer heritage in order to free them from the clutches of the terrible Master.

As with The Wind Singer, my feelings with regards to this novel are incredibly mixed and so I suppose it’s best that I start with the things that I liked about it.

First and foremost, Slaves of the Mastery is a lot better written than The Wind Singer. It feels as though Nicholson’s writing style has developed along with his characters, making the whole story feel a lot more mature. The novel is a lot darker than The Wind Singer and this helps maintain a sense of tension throughout. While I complained last time that the novel flitted from action sequence to action sequence without stopping for breath, this story took its time to allow the atmosphere to gradually build. As the brutality of the Mastery was established very early on, this helped to maintain the feeling that anything could happen to the characters and thus kept me turning the pages to ensure that my favourites made it out ok.

While the story carries on directly from The Wind Singer, it does also change its focus quite significantly. Although the Morah still exists, its defeat at the end of the previous book makes it of less importance in this story. It only really rears its head towards the end of the tale as most of Slaves of the Mastery is taken up by further developing the reader’s understanding of the Singer people. In doing so, the story did begin to explain some of the things that I did not really get in the last story, such as why Bowman and Kestrel can read each other’s minds. Although I wish that this had been touched upon earlier, I am glad that Nicholson did include it in this novel.

The theme of conformity against individuality which could be seen throughout The Wind Singer is also present in this story. This time, it’s embodied by the rebellion of the free-spirited Hath family against the rigid structure of the Mastery. However, this time the sides do not seem to be quite so clear cut. In the last novel it was clear that that Aramanth was corrupt to its core but in Slaves of the Mastery the Mastery prospers. Although the Master controls his nation with a mixture of love and terror, his city is free of crime and the slaves have the opportunity to grow wealthy and respected. Although the novel clearly supports the idea that freedom is the most important thing, it still raises some interesting philosophical questions.

However, the novel also raises some questions about the nature of love and marriage that I found to be far more disturbing. As, once again, the Hath family represent the perfect ideal of humanity – showcasing true love, freedom and respect – most of the other people that Kestrel and Bowman meet have some very shallow views. The male characters – such as Ortiz and Zohon – fall in love with women instantly at first sight. They do not have any interest in getting to know the objects of their affection. They just want to marry the girls with the prettiest faces.

Similarly, some of the female characters seem to have picked up on this fact and have no interest in anything other than being beautiful. Sisi obsesses over her appearance, reluctant to do anything (including eat) if it would damage her looks. At one point she is even convinced to accept a loveless marriage as the alternative is travelling on foot in the dirt. This viewpoint is also maintained by her overweight mother who expresses the view that women become fat after they marry because they have no need to be beautiful at all. I’m certain that Nicholson included these characters in the name of satire to show how absurd this vanity is but I still found it hard to read. I hate it when female characters are objectified in literature. I like my girls to be strong and independent. I don’t like them to have no character beyond the desire to attract cute boys.

Development of the principle cast was also very mixed. While Bowman receives a great deal of development, learning who his is and exactly what he is capable of doing, Kestrel does not receive the same treatment. She starts of the novel as a very strong character but seems to turn into a damsel in distress during the climax in order to give Bowman further room to shine. Mumpo also hits a developmental cul-de-sac as his resentment turns him into a killer. Although the novel at one point seemed like it wanted him to develop a sense of remorse, he immediately followed his moment of regret by murdering several more individuals. I’m not sure what exactly Nicholson was trying to achieve in turning his most lovable character into a hardened killer but it just made me stop caring about him.

Of the new cast, the only one I’m really curious about is Sisi. Although I criticised her attitude earlier this review, I have to admit that she evolved to pure awesome over the last ten pages. Seriously, this novel should be read just so that people can experience Sisi’s moment of glory. I really cannot wait to see what she is going to do in Firesong.

So, to conclude, Slaves of the Mastery is not a bad novel but I was still a little disappointed. The book is a lot better written than The Wind Singer and did raise some interesting themes but it did also showcase some very dated attitudes towards women and had very little by the way of character development for most of its cast. I’m curious to see how the series is going to conclude in Firesong but don’t have any burning desire to read it any time soon.

Slaves of the Mastery can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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