(2022) Anthony Reynolds, Orbit, £16.99, hrdbk, vi +428pp, ISBN978-0-356-51976-0
A dying queen, a desperate king and a champion willing to do whatever it takes – all the ingredients of a classic, if perhaps rather hackneyed, fantasy tale. Here, however, there is a twist: the champion is King Viego’s niece, Kalista, who leads the Host, an army of ‘low-born’ fighting men and women and who is determined to challenge the traditional hierarchy and erase the bloody legacy of her country, Camavor. No doubt this nod to gender equality should be applauded although it is noticeable that all the ’baddies’ are stereotypically male. One such is Erlok Grael, who instead of being chosen to serve as an apprentice to one of the Master scholars in the Blessed Isles is relegated to the role of minor assistant to the Warden of Thresholds, toiling away in the deep vaults where magical works and artefacts from around the world are safely stored away. Whilst down there, nursing his murderous resentment, Grael discovers something that will change the world and gives the book its title.
Kalista, however, knows nothing of that as she frantically seeks a cure for the queen, mortally wounded by accident during a post-sacking assassination attempt on her husband. Her search leads Kalista across the Eternal Ocean to the fabled Blessed Isles, hidden away behind magical mists that disorient sailors and somehow turn their ships around. As with all such quests, Kalista must face and overcome an assortment of obstacles, which she does in true warrior fashion and with the help of her ship’s captain, Vennix, a kind of otter-woman (one for the furries among the readership!). After rescuing another ship assailed by convincingly gruesome sea monsters, they encounter Tyrus, a scholar from the Blessed Isles, accompanied by his apprentice Ryze, who possesses magical powers that he has yet to fully master. Kalista convinces Tyrus to take them to the islands so she can persuade the other Masters to hand over the cure to the poison ravaging the queen. Unfortunately, the Masters, keen to maintain their isolation from the rest of the world, decline to do so and Kalista has to return to Camavor empty-handed.
What she finds back home shocks her to the core and sets in train a sequence of events that ends in disaster, betrayal and, yes, the ruination of the world. The king, of course, is not the kind to take ‘no’ for an answer and insists on returning to the isles, this time mob-handed, with a force of knights from the Iron Order. They in turn are led by Hecarim, Kalista’s betrothed, who is somewhat less enamoured of egalitarian principles than she is. Meanwhile Ryze, attempting to break free from what he sees as the suffocating discipline of Tyrus and obtain full control over his magic through his own means, bumps into Grael down in the vaults. This is very much a match made in hell although rather unconvincingly, Ryze eventually comes to perceive this himself and decides to step away from the dark side, ultimately self-transforming into one of the heroes of the day. Unfortunately, that is all too little, too late to stop the apocalypse which swallows up many of the central characters and sets things up for what will surely be a sequel, if not an entire series to follow.
The setting for the book overall is the world of ‘The League of Legends’, a multi-player online game that is claimed to be the world’s largest ‘e-sport’. Fortunately, however, you don’t need to be a gamer to appreciate the story despite the occasional cliché. (how does someone pace about in a room? Like a caged animal of course!) And there is an overabundance of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’, but it chugs along in a very readable way.
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