November 17, 2005

The One Kingdom,
The Isle of Battle,
The Shadow Roads, by Sean Russell

You think your family has problems.

The three novels listed above comprise Russell's latest fantasy trilogy, The Swans' War, and if nothing else Russell has raised the subject of generational sin to new heights.

In The One Kingdom we're introduced to our primary viewpoint character, Tam, and to two opposed families, the Renne and the Wills. Back in the old days, the Land Between the Mountains was united into a single kingdom; then came civil war, with the Renne and the Wills both claiming the throne. They've been feuding every since, and the kingdom is but a distant memory. Tam and his cousins are from a valley in the far north, inhabited by folk who fled the constant wars; the trio are venturing out for the first time in their young lives, looking for horses and adventure. They find it, naturally, and also discover that the Land Between The Mountains is a much stranger place than any of them (or the reader) would have guessed. It's as though the Land had once, long ago, been torn into shreds, and the edges rejoined incorrectly, so that much of the Land is simply inaccessible--at least to mere mortals. Yet there are those Tam meets who are clearly more than human.

In The Isle of Battle the feud between the Renne and the Wills breaks out into open battle yet again; and we discover that the current violence is really a manifestation of a much older feud, a battle between the three children of Wyrr, great magicians all, who have lain undead in the bosom of the great river that bears their father's name for a thousand years, but are now free. The consequences for the people who dwell in the Land Between the Mountains don't bear thinking of.

In The Shadow Roads Russell brings the whole thing to a conclusion as we learn that the dispute between the children of Wyrr is but a symptom of an even older quarrel--and if it isn't resolved, and promptly, the shredded lands will rejoin to catastrophic effect.

The trilogy as a whole is well-written and engaging, and full of surprises. Each book picks up right where its predecessor leaves off, and goes somewhere completely unexpected; and Russell has peopled his world with as delightful and varied a cast as one could ask for: Tam and his cousins; Cynddl, the story finder; Alaan, who travels by paths that no one else can find; Lord Carral Wills, the blind minstrel, and his daughter Elise, heir (by Wills reckoning) to the throne of the One Kingdom; Toren Renne, heir (by Renne reckoning), a good and valiant man who might be too good for his stiff-necked family; Prince Michael of Innes, a good man in a tough position; the evil Sir Haffyd (yet another occurrence of that archetypal character, the Enemy Who Will Not Die); and not least (and probably best), Lynn Renne, who lives by herself in a private garden near the center of Renne Castle--Lynn who speaks to many but whom no one ever sees.

In short, if you like epic fantasy it's worth your time.

Posted by Will Duquette at November 17, 2005 08:13 PM