|Janny Wurts: To Ride Hell's Chasm|
Merlin (Hardcover), ISBN 1-59222-023-1
Mykkael, the desert-born captain of the garrison in Sessalie's capital city, knows demons and their magic. He carries the scars of the fight against them inside and out. Thus he quickly recognizes the signs of their presence in Sessalie. But who will believe the dark outlander's suspicions?
Members of Mykkael's own garrison resent him for winning his post in combat over the hometown favorites. Mykkael's indifference to social status and his secretiveness also work against him, making him the logical suspect when Sessalie's princess disappears on the eve of her wedding.
Mykkael's polar opposite in everything except skill and honor, Citadel Commander Taskin doesn't want to believe Sessalie has fallen under demonic attack. But the facts bear out Mykkael's claims. Unfortunately, Mykkael's mundane enemies provide Sessalie's demonic foes a powerful wedge to drive between Sessalie's regents and the kingdom's best hope of salvation.
Most fantasy readers know writer/artist Janny Wurts from The Wars of Light and Shadow series. However, this rich, intense, stand-alone novel may serve as a better introduction to her work -- especially for readers who quail at the prospect of catching up on a multi-book series.
The characters engage the reader from the very first page. They grow and reveal themselves over the course of the book to the point that you almost can't bear not to know what happens next -- even when you suspect the next page will send them over a cliff.
Wurts claims she deliberately uses language to slow her readers down and immerse them in the fiction. That statement does her a disservice. Her language is not pedantic, weighty or overwrought in its lyricism, and her pacing never flags. You will, however, find yourself immersed in the fiction by virtue of the absolute authority of Wurts' narrative voice. Not to mention the extra thrill of seeing the characters as Wurts intended them -- her painting of Mykkael, Anja and Taskin graces the book's cover.
Wurts' fictional political systems work on multiple levels. Her magical systems enthrall. At the same time, her depiction of the "natural world" -- from imaginary beasts to the handling of horse and tack -- ring with the kind of authenticity that can only come from someone who practices many of the skills she writes about.
Ironically, I enjoyed the book so much I became hypersensitive to what might -- or might not be -- its flaws. At two points in the narrative, I felt that plotting superseded characterization. Was this the case, or did I identify so deeply with the characters that I subconsciously sought to divert them to the easier narrative path? In the case of this excellent fantasy, I recommend you read the book yourself and draw your own conclusions.
Jean Marie Ward
Click here to read Jean Marie Ward's interview with Janny Wurts.
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