Sara Douglass,
The Wayfarer Redemption
(Tor, 2001)

I love fantasy. I love science fiction. And I willingly admit I don't have very high requirements of the fiction I read. All I ask is that it entertain me enough that I keep turning the pages. The Wayfarer Redemption certainly did that. On the other hand, it doesn't have the WOW factor of early Robert Jordan (books 1-4 of The Wheel of Time before it became The Wheel of Boredom), George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice & Fire series, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings or Frank Herbert's Dune.

While the author sketches out the three main species inhabiting the planet, there is not enough of a sense of a character's actions as also representative of their culture. The Avar, while able to display some interesting powers, still ultimately come across as people who happen to live in the forest and have a forest god. They never really seem like an alien or exotic culture. The same is true of the Icarii, who have interesting powers thrown into the mix -- yet they and the Avar ultimately come across as yet another story of Wrongly Persecuted Indigenous Peoples.

Another criticism, which this book shares with many in the fantasy and science fiction genres, is that heroes are presented as overwhelmingly GOOD (with only minute flaws, i.e. Axis) and the enemies are overwhelmingly BAD (Borneheld) or just plain EVIL (Gorgrael). In fact, one of the few characters in the book I felt some real sympathy for is Borneheld because he was abandoned by his mother when he was not much more than 3 or 4. She rejected the son because she couldn't stand the father. The author gives hints that Borneheld feels real emotional pain at her loss, yet she feels no shame for abandoning him. This is only one example of how the characters lean more toward black and white portrayals than the conflicting real-world struggles and less than perfect lives people lead. Similarly, Gorgrael is given no excuse for being evil; apparently, he was just born that way.

And yet -- I was still entertained. I was hooked enough that I turned pages all the way to the end and decided to follow the Axis trilogy to its conclusion. It's the equivalent of a summer throw-away flick. It is not heavy or philosophical, nor does it try to build worlds on the par of a Tolkien, Jordan or Herbert. It's a standard fantasy, well-written but in some ways unoriginal. So, if you're insisting on a Tolkien, Martin or Herbert, look elsewhere. For everyone else it may be worth a shot.

- Rambles
written by Dana Fletcher
published 3 May 2003

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