Chaz Brenchley,
The End of All Roads
(Ace, 2003)

With The End of All Roads, Chaz Brenchley's distinctively literary Outremer fantasy series comes to a close, answering most if not all of the reader's questions about what has taken place over the course of the six gripping novels. As this novel opens, the Folded Land of Surayon, a "heretical" principality in the land of Outremer that has been magically hidden for 40 years, is suddenly accessible to outsiders, including the armies that are converging there to destroy it. From one side come the Knights Ransomers and the militant brotherhood of Outremer -- led by a military zealot, they seek to destroy Surayon for its heretical ways. From another side come the tentatively united desert tribes of the Sharai, who seek to reclaim Surayon as a land taken from them decades earlier. Surayon has no army to speak of, and thus the death toll is writ large across the landscape.

The central characters of the Outremer novels are also in Surayon. This is a strongly character-driven series, so it is almost impossible to really describe the characters just in relation to this last of the six novels. Julianne, daughter of the King's Shadow, is now married (in name only) to both Imber, a baron of her own people, and to Hasan, the leader of her people's desert enemies. Marron, the young lad who took the mystical weapon called the Daughter into himself and became the Ghost Walker, now lies in distress after being touched by evil. Both Marron and Hasan have been brought to Surayon in hopes of being healed by the princip of the land. The princip is the grandfather of Elisande, Julianne's loyal companion and the series' most significant tragic hero. Alongside Marron, as always, is the young but intentionally tribeless Sharai lad named Jemel. The relationship between the two young men (and there is a physical relationship involved) will be put to the test when Marron finally meets up again with Sieur Anton d'Escrivey, the knight he once served and a man with whom he established an even more controversial relationship.

It's difficult to see how everything will play out in this inevitable war that has now begun. While the Sharai and the Patrics both wish to destroy Surayon for their own reasons, they themselves are bitter enemies and could turn on one another at any time; the Sharai tribes often fight amongst themselves and can only be united under a strong leader such as Hasan, but Hasan has been grievously wounded. The Ghost Walker would normally be expected to take a role in the fighting, but Marron has sworn never to kill again. On top of all this, you have a new, unnatural force entering the fray in the form of deadly 'ifrits and the fiendish ghuls they control.

There is much more to this story than just the fighting, however, as the book does not end until final revelations are revealed in Ascariel by the king of Outremer himself, a king who has not been seen for the past 40 years.

Generally, I thought The End of All Roads made for a pretty satisfying conclusion to a weighty and truly literary series, although I do feel as if a couple of the principal character resolution issues were a bit rushed or minimized. The Books of Outremer make up a highly unusual fantasy series, one made all the more singular by the ambiguous sexuality of the main characters. You have Julianne and her two husbands, the homosexual feelings of Marron and Jemel, the disturbing relationship between Marron and Anton d'Escrivey, and poor Elisande's unrequited love for one of the boys. The distinctive atmosphere of this world is also a magical one with some similarities to what you might find in Arabian Nights. In this sixth and final book in particular, you have a number of thrilling fight scenes both between man and magical beast, but it really is the characters that bring this story to life. These are not heroes in the traditional sense -- just the opposite, in fact, and each of them has done things I highly disapprove of -- yet they remain fascinating and strongly sympathetic actors in the outre world Brenchley has created for them. The End of All Roads is a truly fitting conclusion to an extraordinary fantasy series.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 21 August 2004

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