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If you don't like gore this is not for you
on 11 January 2012
It has been some ten years since this novel was published, some ten years long it has lain hidden on a bookshelf. Added to it have been the remainder of the trilogy as they came out; yet, such has been the glut of high fantasy in recent years - Elliott, Canavan, Weeks, McKenna, to name but a few maestros of the genre - that Robert Newcomb's epic has been neglected until a quiet December when, quite by chance, it met this reviewer's eye. SFX claims on the jacket that it is "beautifully and vividly drawn...impressive", "a complex and sweepingly conceived narrative" - the Good Book Guide. I think both comments a fair reflection on the story within.
The opening novel of the trilogy tells us of the aftermath of the Sorceress' War; of the exile of the Vagaries-wielding four female mages who have wrought horror and destruction on the land of Eutracia. Their final defeat at the hands of the Virtue-blessed male wizards, headed by the long haired, ancient Wigg brings about three hundred or more years of peace, of blossoming civilisation and a utopia that is about to be shattered. The present narrative follows the coming-of-age Prince Tristan, a reluctant man about to become a King. A man who has a prophecy naming him The Chosen One, a twin of the pregnant and beautiful Shailiha, a man whose endowed blood has him fall into the Caves of the Paragon and learn about the Stone that gives all magical power in the land.
Far away, across the Sea of Whispers the evil Sorceresses have survived and seek a fifth to make their Coven strong enough to carry out a Blood Rite to enable them to reclaim their power over Eutracia. Three hundred years has allowed their leader, Failee, to perfect an army of ruthless winged warriors. Beholden to the Coven, more martial than the Spartans, they exercise themselves to death under the leadership of the mighty Kluge. It is no wonder then, that on the day of Tristan's coronation they are able to destroy Tammerland, the capital, wholesale murder the nobility, force Tristan to behead his father, and kidnap Shailiha whom they intend to pervert to their cause. What follows is redemption of sorts as Wigg and Tristan journey to the Shadowood to locate Master Faegan and a fast route to the land of Parthalon, there to meet with the dwarf Geldon, to free the souls of the Gallipolai, and find a bloody denouement at the hands of the Sorceress.
There is no denying the epic sweep of Newcomb's imagination. However, the shock factor of his polarisation that females are inherently mistresses of dark, depraved sexual blood magic, and men the masters of kindly, life-giving, virtuous cleansing magic is underlined by a constant descent into nauseating descriptions of brutality, rape, murder, torture and sexual deviance that is utterly unnecessary in the story. It has a level of violence that is akin to an 18 rated video game. It seems acceptably removed because it is "fantasy" yet it brings a frown to this reviewer's brow at the endless descriptions of the Sorceresses delight in gore. Apart from this dominant descriptive narrative, the book contains the usual facets of high fantasy. Magical forests , white haired enigmatic and riddle-speaking wise wizards, a reluctant, impatient hero who learns about himself and the true meaning of leadership on his quest, draconian-styled ultra-warriors, dark and cavernous cities, secret passages, a magical stone...all ingredients used beforehand (and since) by those who write this genre.
As an opening novel I must consider this before the likes of Canavan or Elliott...seek comparison in Eddings or Saberhagen, Donaldson or Weis & Hickman. Against those, this is a level lower. It offers nothing new compared to them...indeed I see many similarities between those series and this one. Yet...the author is powerfully descriptive - even if the attention to gore much overdone - and clearly talented in this regard. I have the second novel and will read it because I wish to see if this author grows with his trilogy and what might await the now-King Tristan in the mind of Robert Newcomb. If you don't mind endless pages of descriptive violence and gore then plunge in. If, however, your sensibilities are a trifle more delicate, then this will not be for you.