Thursday, May 20, 2010

“The Edge of the World”, by Kevin J. Anderson (Orbit)

Originally reviewed in June 2009, with the release of the mass market paperback edition and the sequel, The Map of all Things, I thought it worthwhile to re-post my review of The Edge of the World. So, here it is:


An exceptional start to a new fantasy series from an established master

After generations of friction, the leaders of two lands meet in the holy city of Ishalem to bring an end to the bloodshed and to divide the world between them.

Sadly, this new spirit of fellowship is short-lived. A single tragic accident destroys, in minutes, the peace that took years to build. The world is once more cast into the fires of war – and this time the flames may burn until nothing remains. From the highest lord to the lowest servant, no man or woman will be unchanged by the conflict.

But while war rages across both continents, a great quest will defy storms and sea serpents to venture beyond the horizon, where no maps exist – to search for a land out of legend. It is a perilous undertaking, but there will always be the impetuous, the brave and the mad who are willing to leave their homes to explore the unknown.

Even unto the edge of the world…

This is a gripping and immersive, multi-layered tale of war, adventure, sacrifice, loss, Machiavellian politics, revenge, and tragedy.

The Edge of the World is that rare fantasy novel that hooks you from the very beginning. Even though Anderson is creating a whole new world, the reader is never left feeling lost, and we quickly feel at home with his characters (so much so, that even minor characters who are killed off are a surprise). The story is told from a number of perspectives, each from different strata of Tierran and Urbecan society, with their own unique voices and approaches to the world around them: the rulers of the two nations and their offspring, witnessing events spiral out of control; Criston Vora, a young shipman on the Luminara; Adrea, Criston’s new wife, taken captive by Uraban raiders; Hannes, a former spy for Tierra’s church of Aiden, horribly burned and in the custody of an Uraban queen, trying to get home and serve his own, brutal version of his religion.

It’s actually very difficult to review this book: if I were to go into much detail, it would require describing and spoiling a good deal of the plot and some of the twists and surprises along the way. Needless to say, the work and imagination Anderson has poured into the novel is impressive. Over the course of the novel he slowly builds our understanding of the three cultures (the two previously mentioned, and also the Saedran) and their people. It is a fascinating world, and one that can’t fail to offer endless possibilities for the future.

What’s particularly interesting about this world and this novel, is Anderson’s ability to make the world feel familiar, even though it is so very different from our own. Universal issues, such as loss, religious zeal, love and vengeance are all major parts of Anderson’s story. The trials his characters endure help shape them and their trajectory through the story, each thread connecting at some point, just the right moment to send things in a new direction (particularly towards the end of the novel). Best of all, he’s managed to avoid pretty much every fantasy cliché, which makes for a highly original novel.

Anderson has managed to get the balance between the various strands right, and doesn’t chop and change too frequently between them. Rather, he gives us just enough to keep us reading, to keep us engaged and involved with the story, and also enough to become attached to all his characters. As the story progresses, over the span of a couple of decades, you will find yourself immersed in the story, eager to find out what happens, but equally not wanting it to end (that this is “book one” means it won’t end – at least for a long while, anyway).

Without doubt one of the best new fantasy series in many years, it belongs alongside the greats of the genre. From Anderson, who has written 46 international bestsellers, one would expect little else. Easily the most engaging fantasy novel released this year (thus far), and an immediate favourite of mine.

An engrossing, sweeping fantasy epic, The Edge of the World is essential reading for all.

Also try: Scott Lynch, Daniel Abraham, Patrick Rothfuss, Brent Weeks, Richard Morgan, Brian Ruckley, Robert V.S. Redick

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