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The Sphere of Secrets: Book Two of The Oracle Prophecies    by Catherine Fisher order for
Sphere of Secrets
by Catherine Fisher
Order:  USA  Can
Greenwillow, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

The second book in a trilogy can be a difficult thing. The first is often exciting, to draw in readers. The last book usually contains the climax when everything comes together and the ending becomes clear. In the second book, we have met the main characters, but are left wondering about their ultimate fates. Because of this, the middle of a trilogy can be dull, stringing readers along and just starting the climb towards the climax. A great fantasy series is marked by the author's ability to keep the reader excited through all the books. Up until now, I have only read two trilogies that kept me utterly engaged until the very end J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. I can now add Catherine Fisher's The Oracle Prophesies to this short list.

The Sphere of Secrets starts a few months after The Oracle Betrayed ended. Alexos is the new Archon, but the corrupt Hermia is still the Speaker, and Argelin still commands power in the Two Lands through fear. Trying to prevent another uprising, Argelin promoted Seth to Second Assistant Archivist to keep him busy. He provides rooms of toys for Alexos to keep him entertained, and jugs of the finest wine to Oblek to keep him drunk. Mirany begins to suspect Argelin's intentions when he denies an empire of pearl traders access to the Mountains of the Moon. After she voices her concerns to Alexos, he explains the myth of the Mountains of the Moon. Every Archon used to make a pilgrimage to the Well of Songs in the mountains. The last to journey there was greedy. He stole three golden apples and hid them among the stars. In revenge for the theft, the Rain Goddess dried up the river that flows from the Well of Songs, and every Archon since has forgotten the way.

Alexos decides that it is time for the Archon to return to the Well of Songs. The Jackal also has an interest in the Well, believing that there is untold wealth nearby. After a bit of blackmailing, he and the Fox accompany Alexos and Seth to the mountains. It is a long and perilous trek filled with many obstacles. All they have to guide them is an ancient sphere with cryptic directions. While the Archon travels to the Mountains of the Moon, Mirany gets caught up in Cupbearer Rhetia's plan to expose the corrupt oracle by inciting a war between Argelin and Prince Jamal of the pearl empire.

Fisher does an excellent job of engaging the reader. The story moves quickly, starting right in with very little exposition. Fisher keeps the story moving by incorporating exposition and descriptions in the dialogue (while keeping it natural), and only using narrative paragraphs when needed. The characters are all well-rounded and the imagery makes the settings vivid. The story line is tight and well-written, and the ending resolves enough to make the read satisfying, while leaving unanswered questions, which make the reader itch for the final installment of The Oracle Prophesies.

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