(2007) David Zindell, Voyager, £14.99, pbk, 472 pp, ISBN 978-0-002-2-4762-7
The Diamond Warriors is an epic fantasy novel set in a world known as Ea, and the narrative focuses on the experiences of a warrior, Valashu Elahad, the seventh and sole surviving son of the King of Mesh, and his crusade against the malignant influence of the ruler of the Dragon Kingdoms, Morjin, who constantly strives to conquer Ea in its entirety and inflict everlasting misery upon its inhabitants.
In order to counter Morjin, who has entire Kingdoms at his disposal, Valashu, who starts out as a mere warrior (albeit one with royal blood), needs a Kingdom of his own, and so lays claim to the vacant throne of Mesh. Unfortunately, there are several mighty Lords who have put themselves forward as contenders. Valashu overcomes the rival claimants by making the contest an election by the warriors of the Kingdom and uses his winning personality to win over most of the warriors and all of the rival claimants to be acclaimed as King.
King Valashu then sets out to build up an alliance of all of the non-aligned Kingdoms to face Morjin and is rather less successful in this endeavour. Most, if not all, of the other Kings are too short sighted, too jealous of their own power or too proud to join the alliance. Valashu manages to assemble a sizeable force, mainly of irregulars, but without support from the other Kings, his prospects do not look good when compared to the enormous resources commanded by Morjin at this point.
Valashu manages to overcome an immediate threat that is posed by one of Morjin's minions, King Mansul, whose forces attempt an amphibious assault on central Ea, by means of a pitched battle. This victory encourages all of the other Kings to have a change of heart and to join Valashu. However, even with these welcome reinforcements, Valashu's army is only a fifth of the size of his opponent.
Disaster strikes when , on the eve of battle, the Maitreyah, a semi-mystical figure upon all whom all hopes are founded, disappears and is later found to have been captured by the enemy, and it is revealed that Morjin has a fearsome Dragon to help him. Valashu and his supporters are forced to fight against overwhelming odds, and their only hope is if they can somehow rescue the Maitreyah and use him against Morjin.
Morjin puts paid to any rescue attempt by killing the Maitreyah in the midst of the battle. However, it transpires that the real Maitreyah all along was a girl companion of Valashu's, who helps him to defeat Morjin and his minions and to herald the dawn of a new age of peace and co-operation amongst the Kingdoms of Ea, with Valashu acclaimed as High King.
The Diamond Warriors is a novel of truly epic proportions that emulates the Lord of the Rings in its style. The novel is very well written and the narrative flows well, but its biggest strength lies in the way the author portrays his characters.
The central character, Valashu, is of course a formidable warrior who carves his way through all opposition, but the focus is more on the force of his personality, his integrity, his skills as a leader and the dark forces within him as he struggles not only with the pressures of being a King, but with being contaminated with a Ahrim, a darkling shadow. His strength of character enables him to overcome all odds.
Valashu is ably supported by some great characters, namely Maram, his best friend, a tough warrior and a hard drinker, who proves very useful due to his powers at using Gelestei stones to either fight Dragons or, on a more mundane level, carve through rock to allow Valashu's army to shortcut inhospitable terrain. Kane is another warrior of great longevity and able to survive enormous amounts of damage and endowed with great wisdom.
The main female characters, Altura and Estrella, are portrayed as strong women, albeit in very different ways. The Amazonian Altura is Valashu's lover and the leader of a tribe of warrior women, who fully contributes to the battles and makes a fitting consort to Valashu. Estrella is a young girl, no warrior to be sure, but her mental powers and strong personality are befitting the Maitreyah that she is to become and she proves instrumental in helping Valashu defeat Morjin.
On the other side, the only character of note is Morjin himself, suitably portrayed as being the epitome of evil, yet human, with human weaknesses. Morjin's minions are fairly one-dimensional and entirely overshadowed by their evil lord and master.
All in all, The Diamond Warriors is a thoroughly enjoyable read and an excellent fantasy novel on which the author has clearly laboured enormous effort to create the world of Ea in fine detail, from maps of Ea, the seasons and calendars, right down to the heraldic devices worn by the main and lesser characters. The only criticism that can be levelled at it is that the plotline is a tad predictable, with few surprises, but for all that it is a truly impressive work of fantasy fiction.
J. Russell Tomlinson
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