In the ten years since three of the four Ascendants of Estorea saved the Empire from certain destruction, some things have changed for the gifted young people who have been born with the power to control the elements. But not everything has changed, and not all that has changed has been for the better.
In Cry Of The Newborn, the first of James Barclay's two-part series about the Roman-like Empire of Estorea, The Ascendants Of Estorea, we met four children with exceptional abilities and watched them grow into their power as full-fledged Ascendants by the time they were teenagers. Each could directly communicate with the energy patterns of the earth, allowing them to control the elements.
Arducius worked best with the wind, Mirron with fire, Ossacer was a pain-seeker or healer, and Gorian was able to control animals and plants. While all could do "works" in each other's area, they each had a specialty, the one power that was dominant when they were born. They had been taught that theirs were gifts from the Omniscient, and to be used for the betterment of all people. So they healed sick plants, people, and animals, called rain to arid fields, and pushed reluctant ships against the current.
But their very existence was seen by the officials of the church, specifically its chancellor, as an offense before the God and it was decreed that they should be burned at the stake as heretics. Fear of the unknown can be a deadly weapon, and in the early days the church was able to whip the people into a frenzy against the Ascendants and they were forced to flee their homes to undertake a perilous journey to survive.
Survive they did, but at a cost; they lost Gorian to his own worst instincts. Away from the guidance of his elders he gave into his lust for power and the belief that he was a superior being. He raped Mirron and killed a friend, and only the remnants of familial feelings the other three had for him saved him from being killed. They hoped abandonment would cause him more harm, but instead it strengthened him and stiffened his resolve for revenge on the living.
In the time that has passed, while Mirron, Arducius, and Ossacer have been establishing a school for the next generation of Ascendants in the heart of the Conquord (Empire) and fighting against the lies and hatred still being propagated by the Church, Gorian hasn't been idle. He has allied himself with Estorea's strongest foe and devised a means for them to overthrow the empire with minimum losses.
What general or king wouldn't kill to have troops that don't need to be fed, don't have to rest, and will keep marching even if they have a sword stuck through their heart? That's what Gorain can promise them as he has learned the secret of reanimating the dead.
That it goes against everything they have been taught, that it flies in the face of all that's sane and holy, and that he doesn't care for anything other then his own personal gain only shows how far he has fallen from grace.
Ships full of plague-infested rats crewed by reanimated corpses sail into Conquord controlled ports, where they spread death by the thousands, creating more bodies for Gorian's army of mindless vengeance against the world. Country after country is overrun and each successive battle yields up fresh "recruits".
Those soldiers brave enough to stand against their old friends must either dismember them piece by piece or burn them and scatter their ashes to the wind. But even then there is an inevitability about their advance that makes the bravest man wilt eventually, no matter what weapons he has at his disposal.
In the end it will come down to whether three of the original four – Mirron, Arducius and Ossacer – can figure out a way to overcome Gorian before he destroys the world so he can be king of death and putridity. But even if they manage that, will they be able to outface their enemies at home who have turned the very people they saved ten years ago, and for whom they will lay their lives on the line yet again?
Barclay is at his storytelling and adventure-creating best in this book. Considering the subject matter it would be so easy to let this book become some sort of horror and gore extravaganza. While it does become a bit gruesome at times, what is primarily conveyed is the anguish felt by those having to fight against resurrected loved ones.
All of the favourite characters are back from the first book and each of them has grown and changed over the ten years since we saw them last. Barclay has done a wonderful job of recreating the same characters but making sure they are ten years older. His atmospheric descriptions are even better then they were before and they present some pretty stark visuals that pop into your mind.
This is Barclay at his best, writing great characters and creating imagery that brings the whole scenario to life. His worlds have always been vivid and believable and Estorea is no exception. What is new is the emotional depth and honesty that he has brought to the characters. Even the villains of the pieces are given definition that limits our ability to hate them.
This is a great book, and I believe that the whole Ascendants of Estorea sequence is one of those series that people will be reading years from now. From the opening lines of Cry Of The Newborn to the ending of Shout For The Dead, Barclay doesn’t set a foot wrong or strike a false note. For the fan of the intelligent and well written fantasy/adventure story, these two books will serve you beautifully; they are written by an author at the top of his game.