on 4 November 2005
At first, reading what the story in this book was about, I had my doubts. It sounded like any other standard fantasy story. Gods at war, a prophesy, the whole lot.
But I had read the Kushiel books by Jacqueline Carey, and loved those. So I thought to give this one a try.
I have not regretted it a moment. The ingredients of the story might be the same as many others, but the way she presents it is completely different. No good or bad guys, black or white. The story she presents is grey. She give the point of view of both sides, and both have good reasons to do what they do, follow the prophesy or try to stop it. You really do not know who the real bad guys are, nor the good guys. And that makes this book unique among fantasy stories. A great story, presented in a unique way!
on 2 April 2007
Like everyone else who've reviewed this book, I'd read the Kushiel series previous to this one, and much enjoyed it. And when one reads another series by an author one has read before, there are always expectations that the genre, the writing style, will be similar. This is the only time yet that I have read two series by the same author that are so blatantly different and yet both good, albeit in very differing ways.
The Sundering, unlike the Kushiel series, is not at all about the characters, but focuses entirely on the plot and the philosophical issues presented. I had to finish not only Banewreaker, but Godslayer also before I could pinpoint the moral and at no point during the books could I guess at how it would end.
It would've been easy enough to just invert the classical seven Gods, one of the evil thing, have us cheering for the "bad guys" instead. That would've been moderately original. Of course, it isn't that easy in The Sundering. There are nuances in the nuances. For a very different version of the classic epic fantasy adventure, and a comment on the whole genre, this is your book.
Long Ages ago, the Seven Shapers forged the world in accordance with the will of their creator, out of whose death they were born. However, Satoris the Sower refused the command of Haomane Firstborn and was named a traitor. For many long Ages Haomane and Satoris struggled, until the world was Sundered. The other six Shapers now dwell in the uttermost west, whilst Satoris finds himself constantly assailed by their servants in Urulat.
Tanaros, one of the Three and Satoris's most stalwart servant, is given an important mission. He must prevent Haomane's Prophecy from coming to pass by seizing the Lady of the Ellylon, Cerelinde, before she can marry the Aracus Altorus, the rightful King of the West. But this kidnapping itself may have set in motion the events that Satoris has long tried to avoid...
Read at a purely surface level, the plot precis of Banewreaker (the first book in the Sundering duology) sounds more than a bit familiar. But this is deliberate: in these two novels Jacqueline Carey launches a revisionist broadside at the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. At a very simple level, this is the story of The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (though chronologically mixed-up) as told from Morgoth's point of view (and, more overtly, the Witch-King of Angmar's, though Sauron also plays a role).
Of course, Carey reworks the names, concepts, races and ideas a fair bit so she doesn't get sued into oblivion by the Tolkien Estate, but these changes are hardly impenetrable, and it's still straightforward enough to work out who is who from the Tolkien mythos. At the same time, Carey imbues her characters with enough depth that they stand on their own two feet and after a while you start to forget the artistic intent behind the series in favour of its own narrative and storyline.
The Sundering is essentially an 'epic tragedy', and it's telling that each book opens with a quote from Paradise Lost. The duology is set in a world where there are two distinct sides, the 'dark' forces led by a fallen deity and consisting of an army of trolls led by 'fallen' Men, and a 'light' side led by stalwart heroes, noble Ellylon (elves with the serial numbers filed off) and a plucky innocent hero who has to take a magical trinket of enormous power (in this case, slightly oddly, a bucket of water) into the heart of enemy territory. The 'good guys' are also advised by a wise and powerful wizard who at one point undergoes an unexpected transformation. The story, spun by the wizard and his cronies, is that Satoris wrecked the world through greed and avarice, and continues to be responsible for all that is evil in Urulat. However, Satoris claims that he only desired freedom of voice and expression and was brutally supressed by the supposedly wise Haomane, who has incessantly pursued Satoris out of vengeance ever since.
The reader is invited to make their own judgement on the truth of the matter, mostly through the character of Cerelinde who is initially a paid-up supporter of Team White Hat. Arriving at Satoris's fortress of Darkhaven, she finds it guarded by fell trolls and maintained by an army of ugly and twisted minions...but the trolls turn out to be honourable and brave warriors, and the minions are outcasts turned out from the world of Men and Ellylon who have been given shelter by Satoris and are treated kindly. As the book progresses, Cerelinde finds herself questioning her own rote acceptance of the written version of history, but at the same time Satoris and his own minions, attacked once again by their enemies, find it difficult to resist becoming what Haomane's PR makes them out to be, evil and destructive monsters.
It's a clever idea for a book, going beyond the mild revisionist intent of Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (where he merely gave his dark lord a motivation, but didn't attempt to justify the evil he'd still carried out), but the book cannot survive on its intent alone. As an individual work with its own storyline and characters, Banewreaker is satisfying and well-written, with Carey managing the trick of echoing Tolkien's prose style without slavishly following it (and thankfully not even attempting any poems). Events build to a tragic conclusion as an epic battle is fought between two sides where both are in the right and in the wrong, and the stage is set for a bigger confrontation to come in the concluding volume of the story, Godslayer (although the actual ending of the book is a little random, the result of this being one long novel split in two and not two separately-written instalments).
Banewreaker (****) is an intelligent and refreshing take on the traditional epic fantasy novel and is a well-written and enjoyable story in its own right. It is available now in the USA and on import in the UK.
on 30 June 2005
I loved the Kushiel trilogy and turned to this new work eagerly. In 'Banewreaker', Carey owes a much more evident debt to the great fantasy worldbuilders: its morality, while inverting Tolkien, could not have been written without him; and she adopts an altogether more epic tone. Her antihero has great potential but so far fails to come to vivid life, which is, indeed, my complaint about the whole book: it's workmanlike rather than inspired. The situation is, however, interesting enough to hold my attention as a moral conundrum and I shall read on in the hope that the whole will be greater than its first part.
on 16 April 2006
I purchased Carey's Baneweaker with much anticipation, having previously enjoyed her Kushiel series; I had found her previous works to be refreshing, her characters were engaging and her creation of the world they inhabit both individual and complex.
I had hoped that in her subsequent works I would see a development of her character portrayal and descriptive skills; instead I found she had retreated into the formulaic cannon fodder that so dogs this genre.
I plodded through to the end by sheer dint of will and determination. The characters were two dimensional and her world flat and indistinguishable. Her attempts to create an intricate world where good and evil are difficult to distinguish; fails to convince.
The best thing I can say about this book is that it is workmanlike; I'm sure it will be enjoyed by some, but those who require complex plots, character sensitivity and deft manipulation of storylines are bound to be disappointed.
I hope that Carey does not follow in the path of Fiest whose early potential rapidly faded into an endless series of vacuous prose. I will read the next in the series in the hope that Carey can pull of a recovery; I hope that she will take the time she requires to produce something of quality.
on 1 November 2014
I've seen this book described as the Lord of the Rings told from the point of view of the Lord of the Nazgul and while the book is full of parallels with Tolkien's works this is an oversimplification. It written more as a romance than an epic fantasy, it focuses on the characters and their motivations as much as the events they are caught up in. It is also not as simple as a struggle between good and evil. Sauron had no motivation beyond gaining power, Carey's characters are caught up in a struggle between thought and emotion rather than good and evil. The problem with the book is none of the characters are especially sympathetic or even interesting, with the possible exception of the Fjeltroll. The characters are less two dimensional than Tolkien but only just.
However, it is an enjoyable book if you are familiar with Tolkien. The events of Lord of the Rings have their parallels in Banewreaker and Godslayer. Fortunately it has been done well and most of the time you don't see them coming (I didn't spot the Gollum analogue until the end of Godslayer) so spotting them is fun. Even replacing the One Ring with a glass of water isn't as ludicrous as it first sounds.