Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Darkness at Sethanon

A Darkness of Sethanon
by Raymond E. Feist
Recommended Ages: 14+

In the conclusion of the Riftwar trilogy - which, by the way, the author specifically calls the third book in a three-book series in his foreword, in spite of many publishers splitting Magician in two - Prince Arutha, younger brother of the King, finally faces his doom either to stop the Enemy of all Midkemia (to say nothing of other worlds) or to die trying. Meantime, two young men, who not many years ago were kitchen boys in the same castle Arutha grew up in, reach the fullness of their powers: one as a magician, and the other as something for which I have no word, sharing a mind and a body with a being older and more terrible than the gods themselves.

Pug, sometimes called Milamber, and Tomas, who sort of is the last of the Valheru known as Ashen-Shugar, travel on a quest of literally epic scope; and I use the word literally literally. Riding a dragon, they comb through several worlds, visit the world of the dead, consult a mad oracle, pass through the void between universes, and experience the entire history of the cosmos, first on fast rewind, then on fast forward. This, and finding an immortal magician with the knowledge of who or what the Enemy really is, prepares them to come to Arutha's aid with just a ghost of a chance of stopping an invasion that means death for every living thing on Midkemia, and little short of it for every other world in the multiverse. The history they witness, including the memories of both Macros the Black and Ashen-Shugar, rivals Tolkien's The Silmarillion in vastness of conception.

But while they swing on a star at the spacy, science-fictiony fringe of the fantasy genre, Arutha and his party must fight their way through the horsey, swordy, goblins-vs.-dwarvesy heart of it. While a lot hangs on whatever Pug and Tomas find out in their trek across the universe, the blood and guts of the affair center on one brooding prince, his minstrel brother-in-law, a teenaged reformed thief, a not entirely reformed pirate, and a handful of other rugged, rough-and-tumble types. It's a nice outdoor excursion, livened up by colossal amounts of death and destruction. And, forgive me if this blows the surprise, their adventure is only briefly set back by a successful assassination attempt right at the beginning of the book. It takes more than a knife in the heart to stop a good hero, and Arutha is a good hero - good enough to continue to be a hero while leading a retreat for most of the book; good enough not to be upstaged by more flamboyant characters, which is to say, everybody else in a given scene; good enough to choose one of his family's worst enemies as his second-in-command; good enough to make a virtually unstoppable villain falter in his tracks just by proving to be alive. But in their final confrontation, will good enough be good enough? Don't be surprised, really, if the answer isn't exactly, "Hell, yes!" The expected is never what you get with this author, or in this world.

While the original Riftwar saga ends here, it is only the beginning of a long list of spinoff series, including the Empire trilogy (co-authored with Janny Wurts), the two "Krondor's Sons" books, the Serpentwar quartet, the Riftwar Legacy series (a trilogy of novels, concluded by a novella in lieu of two canceled novels), the "Legends of the Riftwar" trilogy (each co-authored by a different guy), the "Conclave of Shadows" trilogy, the Darkwar trilogy, the two-book Demonwar series, and the Chaoswar trilogy. Whew! I'm going to have to think about whether I want to spend my next two-and-a-half lifetimes reading this whole saga. I am completely satisfied with the series so far, however - an immersive, genre-stretching, exciting, humorous, romantic drama staged against a titanic backdrop of both history and geography. I would have been surprised had there not been more stories to come out of this world, or rather, this infinite series of nesting-doll worlds. So long as the quality stays up at or near this level, I'll be happy to read them.

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