The Plague Diaries, Ronlyn Domingue, Atria Books, 2017, 417 pp
Sometimes a book, or in this case a trilogy of books, is so personally relevant to me that I am almost overwhelmed with wonder. Then it becomes difficult to write about it in a way that I feel alright about sharing with others. I will do my best here.
The Plague Diaries is the last in Ronlyn Domingue's Keeper of Tales Trilogy, in which she ties together all the aspects found in the first two books and takes her tale to a conclusion so satisfying, so appropriate to what has gone before. I think she must possess many of the gifts she injects into her characters.
The three books can only be categorized as fantasy but they contain an awareness that goes beyond fantasy, that borders on an enlightened spirituality and especially an understanding of womanhood not often found in many of the books I read.
In the first volume, The Mapmaker's War, Domingue builds her worlds around Aoife, the first and only female mapmaker in the Kingdom. While journeying to chart the entire domain she slips through a thin place to find an almost mythical people who have created a way to live in peace. Her discovery unleashes a terrible outcome and she is exiled.
The Chronicle of Secret Riven, second book in the series, takes place 1000 years later and introduces Secret Riven, born of a strange and emotionally distant mother, mute until the age of seven, and possessed of her own gifts. The story follows Secret through her first 18 years as she learns to deal with the joys and horrors of her gifts.
The Plague Diaries opens as Secret comes of age. She has lost her tormented mother but inherited an ancient manuscript written by the mapmaker Aoife. In fact, her mother's attempts to translate it led to her death. Though Secret has suppressed the burdens of her gifts and tries to become a somewhat normal young woman, she is thrown into that other world discovered by Aoife. Along with another young person of indeterminate gender, a person even more gifted than herself, Secret becomes party to a transformation taking place in the Kingdom. The medium of change is the predicted Plague of Silences alluded to in the earlier books.
If you are someone who has pondered the possibilities of peace in the world, of an end to war and violence and greed, the transformation brought about by that plague will be right in your wheelhouse, as they say these days. Very much key to the entire three-part story is the role of women.
I do not read much fantasy. I have never read any of the George R R Martin books for example. The fantasy I have read and enjoyed are books by Ursula Le Guin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Philip Pullman, China Mieville, etc. What these authors have in common falls into a genre called Slip Stream, where different worlds run along side by side and where the seemingly unsolvable dilemmas of human existence are viewed with an eye toward solving them. Ronlyn Domingue fits into that domain.
A reader could pick up The Plague Diaries without having read the earlier two volumes of the trilogy and find a full and understandable story. To completely experience the richness and underlying wisdom I recommend reading each one in order. If this is your type of story, you will be rewarded beyond anything you could imagine.
(The Plague Diaries as well as the two earlier books are available by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)