Into The Broken Lands, published by Penguin/Random House, is the latest book from the imagination of esteemed fantasy and science fiction writer Tanya Huff. Set in the aftermath of the cataclysmic fallout of a wizard war that has rendered areas of the planet uninhabitable the book focuses on two small groups of people.
These so called Broken Lands not only don’t support human life, the wars which created them spawned a variety of mutated creatures against whom humans have little or no defence. However this hasn’t prevented some from making the perilous trek into the devastated area.
There were survivors from the wizard wars. One group was led away from the Broken Lands by the hero Captain Marsen. Marsen and 5000 refugees established themselves in Marsenport to the north. However, other survivors had stayed on adjacent to the devastation in the town called Gateway. Anybody wishing to enter the Broken Lands must pass through Gateway first.
Once before a party from Marsenport had come to Gateway in order to enter the Broken Lands. They needed to procure the fuel required to maintain the Black Fire which was the symbol of their authority. Led by Marsen’s heir they brought with them a creature created by one of the wizards whom they referred to as “The Weapon”.
Now some years latter another party has travelled from Marsenport to enter The Broken Lands in order to obtain more fuel. However, this time they haven’t brought “The Weapon” as it seems to have now taken up residence in Gateway.
The residents of Marsenport are woefully ignorant of their own past. The only account they have of the previous journey into The Broken Lands are the minimal notes contained in the journal kept by the last group who made the trip. Unfortunately they are lacking in details about “The Weapon” and what they can expect to find when they cross the border into the devastated area.
Perhaps this is why along with soldiers the current group from Marsenport also contains two scholars. Unfortunately they seem to have a different agenda than those who are just trying to get in and out of The Broken Lands with the fuel alive.
However, this is not just a straightforward adventure story set in a post apocalyptical environment. First, it’s two adventure stories as Huff not only tells us the story of the current journey but travels back in time to the previous one as well. We watch as two separate parties make the same journey and some of the same discoveries.
We also see how both parties come to see “The Weapon” as not just a creature to use, but a person and treat her accordingly. As we watch the earlier party travel and make discoveries, we also wonder why they didn’t make a record of certain matters in order to warn those who would come after.
Huff’s books are always filled with interesting characters and Into The Broken Lands is no exception. The story is told through the eyes of the main characters both in the past and the future. While this type of juggling act could lead to some confusion for readers Huff does a great job of both telling the story and providing us with insights into these people.
Huff also raises a number of social/political issues without us even noticing. They just gradually worm their way into our consciousness as we’re reading the story. They’re like little asides which make us think twice about the action and what we are witnessing.
Of course the adventure is also exciting as the two groups of travellers meet with everything from a dragon to lizard dogs – and those aren’t even the most dangerous things they face. If you like your adventure fantasy spiced with a good dose of introspection and plenty of intelligence then this book is for you.