King Richon, who had been transformed into a bear as punishment for his tyrannical rule, is sent back in time with his companion, a hound, to build peace between humans and animals and in the process defeats a "half-cat, half-man" creature that has plans to destroy animal magic throughout the lands. King Richon has been trapped in bear form for centuries and has gotten used to this life as a bear, with nobody but a a hound to keep him company. He even calls himself "bear" and does not wonder about the idle foolishness of humans anymore. In the first book of this trilogy (The Princess and the Hound) an evil wizard named Dr. Gharn had transformed the hound into a human Princess and the human Princess, Marit, into a hound. Eventually, with the help from a Prince called George, the hound and Princess returned to their rightful forms. In this second installment of the trilogy, the hound returns to the woods where she used to live with the bear. Once the hound returns, he thinks things should go back to “normal” but now things are different because the hound has experienced life as a human. It takes them a few days, but eventually, the hound and bear ease into their usual life together and communicate through body language and by scratching things into the dirt.
One day, the hound catches scent of something unusual in the forest and she follows it to its source – a strange cat-man. The hound observes that the cat-man seems to drain life out of the surrounding forest and when the bear accidentally falls into this “death zone”, he almost succumbs to the cold death but the hound drags him out of the zone and into a nearby stream. The healing powers of nature eventually help him regain his strength. The two decide to find Prince George and Princess Marit who are now married and organizing a secret school for animal-speaking people. Animal speaking magic is the magic that allows people to communicate with all sorts of animals and commune with the magic animals possess. In this world, animal-speaking is forbidden and considered evil but the Prince and Princess are determined to change this mindset, though they face much resistance and hostility.
The bear and the hound show the Prince and Princess evidence that there is some sort of ancient cat-man creature that has been destroying the surrounding forest. The Prince thinks the cat-man might be using something called “unmagic” which counteracts the magic of animals and life. The Prince decides that they must travel to the mountains in the north and seek the "wild man" who can provide them with magical aid in the battle against the unmagic. The bear is afraid of the wild man but agrees to help as he sees his forest kingdom in peril. During the early stages of their travels, however, the Prince is severely wounded by a traitor in their camp who is against animal-speaking magic. The Princess must abandon the mission to bring the Prince to safety but wishes the bear and the hound good luck on their mission to seek help.
The hound and the bear encounter a family of shape-shifters and take refuge with them for the night. The shape-shifters explain that they had to live a secret life in the woods because they were chased out of their homes for being what they are. The hound communicates that they would be supported by Prince George and the family leave with new-found hope.
Later, the bear encounters the wild man who had transformed him into a bear all those years ago as punishment for his mistreatment of those with animal-speaking skills that lived during his time. Now, the wild man wants the bear to go back in time as the King he once was in order to set things right and combat unmagic before it becomes the unstoppable force it is in their current time. The wild man transforms the bear back into King Richon and the hound into a human woman named Chala and sends them both back in time.
Two hundred years back into the past, Richon and Chala slowly get used to their surroundings. Richon learns how to be human again and has to teach Chala what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior for a female of this time. In this time, there are many people who live in secret as shape-shifters as there is still hostility towards them. Richon and Chala encounter a man who sells monkeys. Appalled by the maltreatment of the monkeys, Richon and Chala incapacitate the man and free the monkeys. After freeing the monkeys, Richon and Chala encounter a bookseller who recognizes Richon as the King. He tells Richon that since he has disappeared, his enemies have been amassing an army to march on his kingdom. Richon determines to find his army and put things back in order and stop the war, somehow.
During their travels to find the army, Chala dreams that she sees a patch of unmagic that is grey and dead. In her dream, she and a bunch of other animals form a ring around the patch and use their magic to replace the patch with new life. She realizes that every bit of “magic” used to counteract “unmagic” is lost and that is why in the future, there is not enough magic to battle against unmagic.
As Richon and Chala travel closer to the Kingdom's capital, Richon is forced to deal with the repercussions of his anti-magic laws. He learns that many innocents were killed because of the bounty put on the heads of people who have animal-speaking powers. Richon is ashamed. When Richon and Chala arrive at the castle, they find it abandoned and in disrepair. Richon goes first to the stables where he sees that his horse is severely injured. Chala discovers that she has some sort of healing magic when she heals Richon's horse. They are in awe at her new powers. Later on Richon discovers that after he had been transformed into a bear and thought to be dead, his royal steward had betrayed him and threatened those of the army to join forces with him to fight in a war against the neighboring kingdom of Nolira. Richon and Chala decide to find the royal steward and oust him as a traitor.
They enter a small village where Chala notices some of the animals are strangely docile – more so than usual, even for a domesticated animal. She thinks that this is a more subtle form of “unmagic”. The animal-tamer tells her it's due to the magic leather glove he found. Chala vows that after the battle, she will return and deal with this animal-tamer. Later on, Richon learns that he can transform himself into a bear when he adjusts his state of mind so that he feels the inter-connectivity of himself and the world around him. Chala and Richon learn that in this time, animal magic is strong and allows them to easily be able to call up the magic that resides inside of them as well as inside of every living thing. In the future, animal magic became weak because of hatred against animal-speakers and the weakening of the magic resulted in the spreading of the unmagic.
Richon and Chala finally arrive at the battlefield. Richon is horrified as he sees that his soldiers are losing the battle and the royal steward doesn't seem to care – almost as if he is purposely losing the battle. Richon and Chala transform into their animal forms and join the battle. They actually manage to turn the tide of the battle and cause their enemy to retreat before they themselves retreat back into the forest.
The next day Richon and Chala become separated during the battle. Richon learns that he has the ability to channel animal related-magic through him and into the bodies of fallen soldiers – essentially giving them life, again. This results in Richon winning the battle. The soldiers are in awe at the communion they experienced with the animals – feeling as if the animals enhanced their strength and agility. Richon is hopeful that this will be a start of a better relationship between human and animals. The soldiers embrace Richon's return as their king.
Meanwhile, Chala notices the royal steward making his escape and she follows him all the way to a small hideout where the cat-man is found. Chala confronts the cat-man and uses her healing magic to transform him fully back to his cat form, erasing all his memories and his hatred. In the process, she uses up all her magic and is trapped in human form but she is happy to make the sacrifice if it means that their kingdom is saved from the unmagic.
The story ends with King Richon making Chala his Queen and the two working together to build a better kingdom and a better relationship between man and animal.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like how Mette Ivie Harrison discussed the relationship between humans and animals in her story - it was interesting to read a sort of "pro animal rights" type of story in a fantasy setting. I did, however, think that her story had a lot of loose ends and that the "magical system" was not properly explained. I felt the story was very symbolic but the symbolism kind of took away from the story because it distances the readers from the characters.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Chala uses up all her magic to transform the "cat-man" back into a cat again. I thought it was very noble of her to give up her magic since many times throughout the story, Chala expressed how much she loved being in her dog form.
Opinion about the main character:
I like King Richon because he was able to return to his kingdom, humbled and willing to change for the better. Throughout the story, he meets his citizens face to face and hears firsthand how they suffered under his rule. A lesser man may have become disheartened or gone into hiding because the damage he had done was so great, but Richon was truly sincere in wanting to make things right and face what he had done.