Saturday, April 30, 2011

Girl on Book Action: Lords of the Sky by Angus Wells

Lords of the Sky by Angus Wells
ISBN: 0-553-57266-0


The Ahn, age-old enemy of the Dhar, have mastered a powerful new battle sorcery and are massing for an attack on Dharbek’s shores.  It will be the last and greatest battle – a merciless conquest of the lands they once owned and the total destruction of the hated Dhar.

But Daviot, a Dhar storyteller and memory of his people, has an impossible dream – to bring peace to the two warring races.  His only allies are a beautiful blind mage; an Ahn warrior who has forgotten his history and heritage; and a beast-man, a hybrid creation of cynical magic, rebelling against a lifetime of persecution and servitude.  Together, they journey to the lost lands of the north to search for the one weapon that will ensure that the Dhar and the Ahn listen to this small band of dreamers.  But they may find that a weapon of peace can wreak far greater destruction than generations of war...


My Thoughts:

I promised a return to the realms of fantasy and here we are: a 650 word, stand-alone novel about magic and warriors and quests to save the known world.  In my teens, I loved this novel and I read it multiple times (so often, indeed, that the pages are soft and the spine lined with creases, the cover is beat up and I somehow tore a couple of pages – probably when carrying the book around in my bag of holding, I mean, purse) and so I wondered if I would still like it now.  I won’t keep you in suspense, dear readers.  I still love this book, but it took me a while to remember what made it so appealing to younger me.

If I look past my nostalgia, I can admit that this isn't a perfect book, however, it is worth reading if you’re a fan of fantasy novels.  This last is especially true if you’re looking for something that isn’t part one of twenty (why are there so few stand-alone fantasy tomes?  I blame Tolkien.).  So, what are some of the problems?  Well, let me get right to them without any further prevarication.  The end, in particular, feels rushed and while we spend the first 500 pages in painfully detailed character development, focusing on miniscule trivia and generally exploring the world of Dharbek and its various problems, in the last 150 pages we hurtle along with nary a thought for anything other than brief glimpses of what Daviot is thinking.  There are no more insightful ruminations on right and wrong, only decisive action and a bit of “oh, if only I had known then what I know now, I was such a fool” from Daviot.  (If it’s not clear from that little swipe at him – I don’t much like our protagonist, but we’ll get to that soon enough.)  In a short afterword, the author says that the book had been longer, but with the help of his editor, he cut a bunch of stuff and I have to wonder if he cut from the last part of the book.  So, what I’m saying is that the pacing could have been better.

Daviot is the narrator of the story.  I appreciate that Wells chose him, since it explains why he remembers everything with such detail – he has the talent for remembering.  It gives a reason for why the book, as an artefact, exists in a way.  So that’s nicely done.  But, of course, I didn’t like Daviot.   

Be warned, there are spoilers ahead.  My issues with both the pacing and with the hero stem from the fact that I like one of the secondary characters...a lot.  In fact, Tezdal (the Sky Lord who lost his memory) is probably the reason I read this book so many times in my younger years.  Daviot spends some time berating himself for the way he treated his friend, because well, he didn’t treat him well.  Tezdal is...dreamy and shows my early propensity for troubled warrior-types who sacrifice too much of themselves for the greater good and then die in a sad, lamentable way (clearly, I have a type).  I spent much of the latter part of the book wishing I could save him and I hate Daviot for not seeing how much his friend is suffering (this is a totally rational response, don’t look at me like that).  If Daviot wasn’t so focused on bringing peace to his world (a dream he's had since he first began his studies) and wrapped up in his relationship with Rwyan, then he might have talked Tezdal off the ledge.  But while he observes that the Sky Lord is troubled he then ignores it in favour of enjoying his own triumphs.  He was not a good friend and he knows it and whines about it (which makes it doubly annoying).  I could go on and on about this, but let me stop here.  Lord Tezdal forever, yo.  I guess the spoilers are over now.

Fan-girl griping aside, this novel is a book about exploration, not in the sense of going to new frontiers, but in the sense that Daviot begins to uncover the intricacies of the world in which he lives.  The things that most people take for granted begin to unravel in front of him as he travels the country as a storyman, keeper of the people’s history.  It’s a book about politics, too, as much as it is a novel about magic and war.  Really, there is a little bit of everything here: battles, romance, magic, intrigue, the list goes on.  But, ultimately, it is a book about the cost of peace (which has somehow become a theme in my current reading / game playing / thinking).  Sometimes, terrible things need to be done to ensure a better future and this novel provides a good example of how the things that are necessary aren’t always good or nice or easy.  Change requires sacrifice.

And as a bit of an aside before I wrap this up: Rwyan is awesome.  Without her determination, Daviot wouldn’t get anywhere, because he’s a quitter and a whiner.  It’s good to see a strong, fierce and proud woman character, even if she is one of the few in the novel.

To echo what I already wrote above, if you’re looking for a solid stand-alone fantasy novel, Lords of the Sky is a good choice.  While you ponder that, I’m going to go cry a few fan-girl tears over my dear Lord Tezdal.

Post Script:  Next week, I’ll be continuing my journey through Stephen King’s Dark Tower series with a review of the second novel The Drawing of the Three.

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