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Beneath the Web is not markedly better than its prequel, the dismayingly unappealing The Wooden Sword. Yet, ironically, its first two chapters do contain some of Abbey's very best storytelling. The war waged between the evil mage Hazard and the people of Walensor, briefly recounted as backstory in the previous novel, is here depicted in its final moments with admirable suspense. Abbey relates not merely the desperation of a people who seek to save their magical link to the gods, the Web of Walensor, but also the internecine tensions between the princes of Walensor, who, were it not for the war that has forced them into allegiance, would just as soon slit each other's throats. It's uncharacteristically tense writing for Abbey, and it shows she can really deliver the goods if she wants to.

Nevertheless, it has to be said: Abbey's fantasies, even when she is doing a good storytelling job, are just plain hard to get into. I think this is mainly because Abbey is taking them so seriously that they are bled dry of any sense of wonder or magic — vital to a fantasy's success. Beneath the Web, like its predecessor, is a pretty dour exercise much of the time, offering up characters by the dozen and plot by the metric ton until the whole thing becomes a very onerous chore to keep up with. So sadly, after the initial interest evoked by those striking early chapters, Beneath the Web settles into business as usual, and only the most devoted Abbey fans and fantasy die-hards will be able to read it without literally dragging themselves kicking and screaming through its pages.

The plot, inasmuch as one can get invested in it at all, deals with the feud between rival princes for the throne of Walensor, and how the presence of Dart and Berika (our "heroes" from the previous novel) figures into the political turmoil. The Web of Walensor is believed to be threatened by the fact that Weycha, the Goddess who imprisoned Dart for over 20 years, broke the Compact that the gods have with humans. There is really little else I can say in the way of a synopsis, to be honest, simply because in spite of (or perhaps because of) the nearly encyclopedic amounts of detail which which Abbey builds her plot, precious little of it sticks with you. Nothing registers because Abbey's storytelling is so serious and even self-important, there is no joy to be had in the reading. No thrills, no tension, no storytelling magic, no real reason to care one way or the other. It's just a thoroughly tedious, if admirably crafted, exercise. I suppose you could put it this way: Abbey hits all the notes, but misses the music. Nothing of what fantastic storytelling is supposed to embody, that sense of wonder rush, is present. Abbey weaves her web with consummate technical skill. It's a true pity that she can't prevent its unraveling.