Jacqueline Carey – Banewreaker
Length: 487 pages
Started: 20 November 2011
Finished: 06 December 2011
Where did it come from? Bookmooch.
Why do I have it? Clare’s fault.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 18 February 2011.
War is trickier
when the good guys are bigger
jerks than the bad guys.
Summary: In ages past, the seven Shapers made the world and all of the beings who dwelt therein. Haomane, Lord of Thought, eldest of the Shapers, and creator of the Ellylon, became angry with Sartoris, who would not withdraw his gift of quickening from their sister’s children, the race of Man. In their struggles, the world was sundered, and Sartoris separated from the rest of his siblings, to dwell in exile. But while he holds Banewreaker, a blade capable of killing even a Shaper, Haomane can make no overt move against him, and so he bides in his stronghold of Darkhaven, along with his three lieutenants, men who left mortality behind when they swore to the Sunderer’s service.
However, there is a prophecy that predicts Sartoris’s downfall, a prophecy which speaks, among other things, of a wedding of a daughter of the Ellylon and a son of the lineage of mortal kings. Sartoris sends his general, Tanaros, to disrupt the wedding and kidnap the Ellylon bride, Cerelinde. Tanaros does this willingly, but he is haunted by thoughts of his mortal life, and the betrayals he has committed… but is he now keeping faith with the right side?
Review: If it’s not immediately obvious from my summary, the Sundering duology draws very, very heavily upon Tolkien. And not just in the way that a lot of modern fantasy relies upon Tolkien, but in actual point-by-point plot parallels. The prologue, that describes the Sundering, is more-or-less a direct recap of The Silmarillion, and a lot of the action of the story parallels The Lord of the Rings (right down to the fellowship of good guys that are accompanying an unsophisticated boy who carries an immensely heavy object that is the only way to defeat the bad guy). However, these parallels are clearly intentional, meant as a way of retelling the story from a different perspective, so they read as homage rather than rip-off.
And actually, I found the story a lot easier to get through once I stopped looking for direct parallels (an activity hampered by the fact that I haven’t read The Silmarillion in six years), and started enjoying the story for its own sake. Carey includes plenty of story elements that have no direct relation to Tolkien’s world, and as the story progressed, and I got more and more caught up in *this* world and *these* characters, I started enjoying the story on its own merits, as well as for the light it shines onto the more familiar works.
Retelling a story from the bad guy’s point of view isn’t exactly a new idea – Wicked is the most obvious, though far from the only, example – but I’ve never before seen it applied to epic fantasy. One of the hallmarks of a lot of epic fantasy is the ultimate battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil, and it’s always quite clear who the good guys are, and why they do what they do. What Carey’s accomplished with Banewreaker is to turn everything on its head, so that the side with all of the typical bad-guy trappings (land of eternal darkness, giant spiders, wounds weeping black ichor, etc.) are the protagonists, and their motives are completely understandable.
In the thousands of years she had lived, she had never doubted the nature of truth. Now uncertainty assailed her; doubt and insidious pity. A thing she had never before grasped had grown clear: the Sunderer believed his own lies. And in the irregular glimmer of the marrow-fire, a worm of doubt whispered a thought.
What if they were not lies? – pg. 312
Actually, what Carey’s done is made the reader (me, at least), want to root for the bad guys. Sartoris is not particularly evil, and just wants to be left alone… and honestly, for all that he’s the lord of light and thought and everything, Haomane’s kind of a dick. But there’s a clear element of tragedy to things as well, because we’ve all read epic fantasy before, which means we all know that good is ultimately going to win, even though you might actually like the bad guys more. It’s a fascinating turnabout, and makes me want to go back and re-read Tolkien with a closer eye on the ostensible bad guys, and see if they’re really so bad after all. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: It’s not a casual read – Carey’s language and tone are such that a fair bit of attention and time is required to really get into the story – but I think that most Tolkien fans (particularly those who don’t view all derivative works as sacrilege) should enjoy Carey’s perspective.
First Line: The place was called Gorgantum.
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