Merric is wounded both in body and spirit. An annoying rival is now a friend and hero, the feared elementals are no long monsters to be hunted down and killed, but merely people with magic who need his protection, the Guardian’s Guild — his family, his calling — suffers from corruption, and Felix, the young man Merric thought he might be falling in love with, has been killed by bandits while Merric was unable to anything more than watch.
When the new king arrives, announcing the death of Queen Bellamy, Merric is shocked to see none other than Felix at King Torsten’s side. His joy at seeing his beloved back among the living is short lived when he hears that Felix hasn’t come back for Merric. Felix is now the King’s consort, quite happily married to Torsten, and the king and his guards have come to arrest Merric’s father, the Guildmaster of the Guardians, on charges of theft, embezzlement, and treason. However, no one wishes to see the guild disbanded; the guardians, for all the corruption of their master, do great and good work in the kingdom and their efforts are needed now more than ever. At Felix’s urging, Merric is chosen as the new guildmaster.
Despised by his father, mocked by the apprentices, derided for his efforts to save and protect the Elementals still hiding in the kingdom, and suffering an injury that leaves him half-crippled, Merric doesn’t know if he can do this. Desperate to do some good in the world, he reaches out to his friend Aubrey, who teaches at the newly opened Elemental School, and asks of she could send him an Elemental, one who could help teach the students that elementals are neither evil nor demons. What she sends him is an annoying, arrogant, handsome, and charming pirate.
Just when Merric thought things couldn’t get any worse, a series of attacks on the Elemental School and the Guardian’s Guild leave people dead and missing. Left behind is a note threatening more attacks and promising the death of one elemental in particular: Scorch, the Sun Guardian, the powerful fire elemental and Merric’s friend. Merric has no choice. In order to save his friend and his kingdom, he shall have to leave the Guardian’s Guild and find Scorch before the mysterious killer does.
The Guildmaster is the third (and I believe final) book in the Vanguards of Viridor series and really ought to be read in order. While you could read it on its own, you’d miss much of the background given in book one. Elemental magics are more defined in this book, and it ties up some loose ends from the previous stories. Also, it’s just a fun series with entertaining characters and a nicely twisty plot.
Merric is a young man who lives in a world where every conversation is about him, every glance directed his way is heaped with scorn, and his own failures are all anyone knows about him. In part, this is due to the constant, unceasing pain of his injury, which leaves him short tempered and defensive — especially since this is the injury that kept him from saving Felix from being killed (or so he thought) by bandits. However, it’s also due to his father’s constant critiques and criticisms. Merric can’t help but compare himself to everyone else, and how can you be the best when someone else might be better than you, even if it’s in one small thing?
Merric is also more affected by his helplessness than the knowledge that someone he thought he loved was killed, and more hurt by his father’s indifference than Felix’s death. In his own words, he believes it would be better if the bandits had killed him than that he lived, injured and dishonored. None of this is helped by his father’s appraisal of the situation when he is told Merric will be the new guildmaster:
“He thought he’d let [Felix] die, and that was bad enough,” McClintock went on. “But the truth is so much worse, isn’t it? He let [Felix] be dragged off by bandits and didn’t even look for [him]. Is that the kind of man you want in charge of helping the people of Viridor? Is that the kind of man you trust? I wouldn’t trust him to walk in a straight line without falling and bursting into tears.”
Quinn is a water elemental who just so happens to be — in his spare time mind you — a pirate. And not always a good one. When hired to kill Torsten and Felix (in The King’s Whisper), he failed to do so. Or chose not to, depending on your opinion of him. However, he did leave Vivid (whose story was told in The Sun Guardian) to die in a siren’s cave years ago. Quinn’s a practical romantic who learned to use his powers to heal when his sister, Aubrey, was injured.
Like water, Quinn is flexible, patient, and with surprisingly hidden depths. He courts Merric with humor and a sharp watchfulness that never edges into predatory. He always asks permission before trying to heal Merric’s leg, and puts up with Merric’s grumbling, snarking, pouting, and whining with the same easy smile. That Quinn is smitten is obvious, but the way he shows his interest through small gestures — a touch here, the offer of a shirt there, the way he works with Merric’s injury and Merric’s pride — says so much more than words. Which is just as well as the only words Quinn and Merric like to exchange are jabs and misunderstandings.
Their relationship, despite the age difference, works for me … most of the time. To be honest, there were some large sections where Merric came off more like a twelve-year old than a twenty-something, but Quinn never felt like he was patronizing or parenting Merric. He just wanted to take care of him. And flirt. There’s a lot of flirting in this book. Even their misunderstandings worked, mostly due to Merric’s rather sheltered upbringing and Quinn’s ability to interpret Merric-ese when Merric got too lost in his own pride. However, Merric’s hot and cold flashes did get a bit tiring near the end of the book.
The action is fast-paced, serving mostly as a chance for Quinn and Merric to learn to work together and rely on one another, but as other characters are drawn into the plot and things start to fall into place, it becomes an engaging read and a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. While this isn’t strictly a coming of age story, it is a story about Merric coming into himself as he learns who he is as a person, a person who is not his father, his rivals, his enemies, or his friends. Merric has to learn how to stop comparing himself to everyone else, and start letting them compare themselves to him.