This isn’t quite a sequel to Sing the Four Quarters, since the locale and characters change. However, the world is the same, and the magic is the same, though it ends up elaborated a bit more here.

It does take place a bit after the first book, and over the border in the Empire. This means that bardic magic doesn’t appear until about halfway through, and is never a prominent force. However, this is the one place where someone who hasn’t read the first book might be a little lost. Explanations of exactly what the kigh are, and bardic commands are possibly a bit lacking. The ‘fifth quarter’ is more than just a four+one title though. The four quarters are the elemental spirits that bards can command, and the fact that bards can also directly affect humans implies that they have a kigh as well. This is something that should probably have been seen in-universe before now, though Shkoder does seem to be a small country that is the only place trains bardic talent.

Which brings us to the story, which features body swapping and necromancy from singing the fifth quarter. It juggles four different plot lines as part of this, and pulls that off well by being very focused on one, which the others flow towards. The main content… gets a lot of comment, and understandably so. After the first book, one wonders if this series is all a vehicle for various types non-explicit sexytimes, with the first book having a fairly sexually liberated society, and this one having a bit of incest along with other complications.

I think this book is overall a bit better than the first one; it’s paced better, it doesn’t have a need for a truly over-the-top ending. But in both cases, what makes it work is the same: the characters are complex. They bend against their central core concepts in personal ways that don’t feel forced. Hmm. Except perhaps Karlene (the only major character bard), who remains a bit flat as a character despite some extensive screen time in the second half of the book, perhaps because her role is a bit functional as well as character driven.