Lawrence Watt-Evans is certainly one of the most skilled writers of light fantasy in the field*. Unfortunately, it seems that his publisher has been relentlessly pushing him towards dark, high-page-count fantasy trilogies. It's as if Gilbert and Sullivan were forced at musket-point to produce nothing but Wagnerian operas.The Ninth Talisman is volume two in Watt-Evan's "Annals of the Chosen". It continues the adventures of a Breaker (aka "Sword"), young man who is one of eight chosen heroes who bear magical talismans. The Chosen act as a check & balance in a magical system of government for the land of Borokan. When the Wizard Lord runs amok, it's their job to kill him or persuade him to retire.It's an interesting concept in an interesting world. The most unusual feature in the setting itself are ler, nature spirits which are somewhat reminiscent of the kami of Shinto - but since this is fantasy, they are far more actual, "magical", and potentially dangerous.In the previous work (The Wizard Lord)...well, I don't want to spoil it. It's not a poorly written book; not at all. A reader who isn't familiar with the many bright, clever, and amusing books that Watt-Evans has written might well enjoy these books quite a bit. But for me, I can't help but constantly compare these mega-page trilogies to Watt-Evans' other works...and they come up sadly lacking.Intelligence. It comes down to that. The truly unique thing about Watt-Evans' lighter fiction is that the protagonists are intelligent. They have common sense and take sensible precautions. And most of the time, those precautions work.That's so refreshing! In far too many modern books the whole plot depends on the hero doing something really bone-headed and stupid, solely because if he/she didn't there wouldn't be a book to sell - and be damned to the art of storytelling. It's a sad commentary on the state of the reading public that such "plots" seem to be de rigeur these days.Breaker did something that was incredibly stupid in the first volume. It was utterly obvious that he was making an enormous mistake. And sure enough, in The Ninth Talisman that mistake comes home to roost. Breaker/Sword doesn't completely bungle this bad outcome, but he show a rather surprising level of trust and docility for someone who had already experienced nearly the ultimate in betrayal.I wish I could say that Breaker's mistakes express some essential insight into human nature. But if they do, I don't see it. To me, it seems that Watt Evans was told by his publisher "These intelligent heroes don't sell books. You have to write big, dark, dramatic trilogies with heroes who screw up - make them as stupid as the public. Give the morons something to identify with!". I'd like to think that Watt-Evans complied reluctantly.Certainly he can still write those light, funny, intelligent works - look at any of his Ethshar books, for example. His publisher tried to kill that series, so he sold the books online. They did well enough to be put out in paperback again, and major bookstores are carrying them once more. So there IS a market for intelligent books.But maybe there isn't enough money in them to make a living.The Annals of the Chosen isn't a bad series. It's certainly worth a look, compared to most of the crap that's being sold as genre fiction. The problem is that the author is capable of so much more.I should note that as is so often the case with the middle volumes of trilogies, this one leaves the reader hanging until volume 3 is published. There are some rather dark moments - well, dark for Watt-Evans, which isn't dark compared to most modern authors but still renders the book unsuitable for anyone under age 14, at a guess. There are a couple of sympathetic characters who get killed off rather brutally and without being developed as the story seemed to promise they would be. It's certainly a readable and well-written series...of its type.But if you haven't read the Ethshar books, or Watt-Evans excellent (albeit not that light) The Lords of Dûs series, please do.-------------------------------* - That's an admittedly narrow category, since the only other two I can think of are Terry Pratchett and Piers Anthony - who should not otherwise be mentioned in the same breath as each other (Pratchett is truly excellent, while Anthony may best be described as "very creepy at times, bordering on pedophilia"). Still, it's a field which has seen wonderful works in the past, and may one day be popular again.