Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take that for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love, And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above Enjoy such liberty.
( “To Althea From Prison,” Richard
For her second novel in the Ascendancy trilogy, Caprice Hokstad chose an appropriate title, Nor Iron Bars a Cage, alluding to themes in the above poem as well as referring to events in the novel itself. In a fantasy world where slavery is a normal part of a culture, one of the big questions is, “what is true freedom?”
Events take up right where they left off in The Duke’s Handmaid. In case you haven’t read the first book, there are enough details that you can easily follow the story, although it would be preferable to read both books. Nor Iron Bars a Cage is set in the imaginary country of Latoph. (You can find some cool details about Latoph, including a map, at http://www.latoph.com/) In this world there is a duality to everything: two suns, two moons, two races of people. Even twin brothers who were supposed to reign together as kings, but only one was given the throne. The other one, our hero Duke Vahn, has only his duchy at his control. This is a cause of major sibling tension.
The story starts up a while after the Duke’s former wife had taken off with their son, fleeing with her lover back to her father’s kingdom of Ganluc. Prince Duke Vahn has searched in vain to discover where his former wife Saerula had hidden Dauntère in Ganluc. Finally, kee, his secret wife and handmaiden extraordinaire, devises a plan enter Ganluc as a recaptured runaway slave, reasoning that a slave will not be suspect and may get information that others could not. The plan is dangerous for all of them, but especially kee, who must be kept locked in a cage as they transport her through the country. There are some very serious misadventures, but I won’t spoil that here.
Meanwhile, while kee is gone, the Duke finds himself in hot water due to a hasty bet with an angry duchess who tried in vain to snatch the Duke as a groom. The loser has to act as slave to the winner for eight weeks. As the saying goes, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
There are some very deep issues in this novel, much deeper than they may appear on the surface. Quite honestly, I had to come to terms with the slavery, which is nothing like the slavery that existed in the United States, but there is a natural repulsion to the whole idea. This is a totally different culture, but even more than that is the Biblical example that kee in particular was following. We serve either God or Mammon, as it says in the King James Version, so while we do have free will, we will end up serving someone. True freedom is found when we willingly submit to the will of God and allow Him to be the Lord of our lives. One of the gems that this novel contains is coming to terms with what Lordship means. When God is truly Lord, He is also our Father. He takes care of us, feeds us, protects us, and has our welfare in mind even when He corrects us. Vahn learns to be more of a Christ figure in the second novel. Hebrews 2:18 reads, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” You will have to read the book to discover how he suffered. There are several other Christian values and world views expressed: loyalty, friendship, faithfulness, a desire to bring honor and glory to the Lord, a willingness to accept blame and not find fault with others, respect for all people, and substitution and sacrifice. The virtue is not so much in getting our rights as being submissive to God and others.
One point I wish to make clear: just because this is fantasy, do not expect it to be a Young Adult or children’s book. It is quite definitely written for adults and describes adult issues. Mrs. Hokstad has said that since she couldn’t find the kind of book she wanted to read, she decided to write it herself. Adult scenes are worded carefully, with no vulgarity or cheapness, but it is suggested that parents read the novel first before handing it to any teenagers. You won’t find anything more graphic than is depicted in the Bible, in fact many passages in the Old Testament are a great deal more violent and graphic.
By and large, this was a very entertaining and insightful, richly detailed story. Caprice Hokstad has painstakingly laid out a new world with luxurious descriptions, from the topography and weather to the racial and cultural differences to the events and décor of the homes. The duality theme is carried out in so many levels. Her descriptions made me wince with pain, smile at the sweetness of kee, and feel the thirst in the desert. It was not a book with action packing every paragraph, since a great deal of the action was internal. Nevertheless, there were plenty of exciting scenes along the way, and quite a few truths to ponder as we impatiently wait for the third book in the series.
Nor Iron Bars a Cage by Caprice Hokstad
Publisher: Vici Publishing
Copyright: © 2007 Caprice Hokstad Standard Copyright License
Country: United States
Available in hardcover, paperback, and download.
If you would like to read a preview of the first three chapters, you can find it at http://www.latoph.com/NIBAC.html
Caprice Hokstad’s website: http://www.latoph.com
Available through her website and http://www.lulu.com/caprice
Should be available very soon at http://www.amazon.com/, but the price is better at lulu.com.