Reviewing the individual books of a trilogy makes me feel like I need to judge them within that context. How the books fit together as a unit and how they stand as an integer in that unit is equally important. Each book has both its own story and a purpose within the overall story and has to be considered in that light.
So while I still need to consider a book as I would any other (characters, plot, atmosphere, and the overall abilities of the author to communicate), I keep in mind that the author has the course of three books to bring all these elements to fulfillment. Over the years I have established criteria, which rightly or wrongly, create certain expectations for what I want in each volume of a series.
Of course there are exceptions to all rules, but the majority of fantasy and science fiction trilogies seem to fall into a pattern and it’s from this that I’ve developed my expectations. The first novel establishes the setting, the characters, and the conflict that will propel everything. The second continues the development and usually builds the action to the point that seems furthest from a resolution. In the finale, everything is wrapped up and tied in a bow of neat conclusions.
I know that’s a generalization, so everyone can stop with the howls of outrage, but it’s only a basis for comparison, like a template that you would use to assist in the creation of anything. What matters is how well an author utilizes the tools at his or her command to turn those conventions into something worthwhile.
Over the next week or so, dependant on how fast I plough through them, I’ll be reviewing Jude Fisher’s Fool’s Gold trilogy: Sorcery Rising, Wild Magic, and The Rose Of The World. I will try and assess each book individually on its own merits and how well it works within the context of the series.
Fool’s Gold is set in the world of Elda, where three peoples live a semi-peaceful existence. These are the subtle and highly religious Istria Empire, the Viking-like people of the Northern Kingdom of Eyran, and the nomadic Footloose, also known as the Wanderers or the Lost people. For the past 20 years, peace has existed between the two landed nations after a series of bloody wars left chunks of the Eyranian land in the hands of the Istrian Empire.
At the onset of Sorcery Rising, all three peoples have converged for the annual Allfair, which this year has the bonus attraction of the new King of Eyran holding a Gathering to select his new bride from various candidates among his own people and the Istria. As is the case anytime a King chooses a bride, political considerations are of the foremost importance. The behind-the-scenes trading and plotting at the fair are just as important as the haggling in the stalls.
Our focus is brought to bear on two families around which the majority of the action will centre. From Eyran is the clan of Aran Aranson, his two sons Fent and Halli and their sister Katla. Aran had fought in the last wars against the Istria but knows the economic value of these fairs. The money they can make from selling their stores of Sardonex, the stone so valued by the Istria for building their mansions and palaces, could go towards buying and outfitting a full-size ship for exploration and war in the West.
Katla has her own wares for sale, sword and knives, which she has built and are superior in craftsmanship to those of almost any other person. She sometimes feels as if she has some sort of connection with the metal and the ores, so that it almost feels like it talks to her, letting her know just how to shape the work. Katla is also a centre of controversy here in the Empire. Unlike in Eyran, where women are allowed complete freedom, in Istria they use the guise of worshiping a Goddess as an excuse to “protect” women from the world. All that a woman is allowed to expose through her clothing is her mouth and her hands. The rest is covered in voluminous cloaks that even hide their shape.
The idea of a woman doing anything like manual labour, let alone making weapons for a man, is considered an aberration by the pious of Istria. Katla does not help matters by unwittingly committing a major transgression on the first day of the fair by climbing a hill that is sacred to the Goddess and therefore forbidden to women. As with all crimes against the Goddess, the punishment is burning at the stake.
One Istria who had witnessed her sin was a young man, Saro Vingo, who has the unenviable position of being the second son of a man who has no use for him. Whenever possible, he seeks to escape from his family’s encampment and his father’s obsession with the elder son Tanto. It was on one of those escapes that he spied Katla and watched her flee from the authorities.
Katla and Saro’s fates are entwined. Even though they meet only once, very briefly, in Sorcery Rising, that meeting irrevocably impacts both of their lives. A knife she gives to Saro as a gift for not exposing her as the one who is accused of desecrating the sacred hill becomes one of the catalysts for a chain reaction that will change the course of events.
Somewhere in the Northern seas of the world lies the semi-mythical island of Sanctuary. Men talk of an island of ice that is the home to wealth beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. It is on a walk through fair grounds that Aron Aronson comes across the information that there is a man amongst the nomads who claims to have maps that will show the whereabouts of this island.
For the past 20 years Aronson has quashed his dreams of traveling the world in a ship and settled his land to develop a sound and responsible future for his family. But when he meets with the map-seller and is given a sample of the gold that could be found at Sanctuary, it is as if he is bewitched. All his promises are forgotten and responsibilities shelved in favour of securing a boat that can navigate the ice-packed waters of the North.
At one time magic and sorcery flourished in the world and was primarily in the hands of the Wanderers. But under the rule of the Istria, it has been brutally stamped out through the slaughter of thousands of the people.
The map-seller, Virelai, is not a nomad. He is the escaped apprentice of the Wizard who created Sanctuary. Unable to slay his master because of a spell that would bring about his own death, he had put the Wizard into an endless sleep and fled the island with a familiar and mysterious woman. She had arrived as if out of thin air in the Wizard’s chambers and her appearance alone seems able to drive a man into insanity from lust and desire.
It is his hope that, if by enticing people like Aron with pieces of the map and samples of gold, they will travel to Sanctuary and take care of killing the Wizard. But having never lived amongst men, he had no idea of the effect Rosa Eldi would have on men or the land itself. Not only does she arouse the passions of men to a fever pitch, it seems her presence has caused the long dormant powers of sorcery to awaken again.
It is the Wanderers who first become aware that the tides of the world are shifting. Knowing full well what happens during times like this, they begin to depart from the fairground during the King of Eyran’s Gathering to select a wife.
The phrase “all hell breaks loose” is what works best to describe the final few chapters of the book. All the plots that lurked behind the scenes come boiling to the surface and passions ignited by hatreds that are still recent memory for both Eyran and Istria rise to the surface. When the dust clears, it looks as if another war between the countries is inevitable.
In Sorcery Rising Jude Fisher has laid the groundwork for four separate story lines involving elements of each country. She has obviously borrowed heavily from, and exaggerated upon, societies in our world for her peoples, but she adds enough unique embellishments for differentiation to be possible.
Certainly the use of two cultures with highly divergent attitudes towards women is nothing new and could easily become clichéd. But having the misogynist culture worship a Goddess stands enough conventions on their heads that she is able to avoid that trap.
Ms. Fisher has also been successful in her introduction of the various storylines. Some of the plots are hatched before our eyes, while others were ones that have been long in the making and are now only coming to fruition. She manages to adroitly keep the lines separate when needed, but shows a good sense of timing, knowing how long we need to develop our understanding sufficiently to start weaving them together.
Many authors make the mistake of plunging in without giving the reader a chance to acclimatize or fail to allow for a proper building of tension and suspense. Events just don’t happen out of the blue; there has to be a build-up to the moment. By allowing the characters room to develop and by carefully stacking layers of individual moments, we are gradually drawn to what is the only logical conclusion that all the circumstances of the story would allow for.
Sometimes there is a fine line between manipulation and storytelling (although there is also the argument to be made that all story telling is manipulation), and Jude Fisher walks the line with all the precision of a tightrope artist. She doesn’t put up any big notice boards that say “plot development,” but has enough faith in us, and her talent as a writer, that the conditions at the end of the novel are seen as inevitable, not just the author creating a cliff-hanger.
One of the things I especially appreciated were her descriptive passages, where she made use of as many of her character’s senses as possible to ensure that we have an accurate vision of the world she has created. More than a lot of authors, she makes use of reactions to odor to offer embellishment to her atmosphere. I personally found it easier to visualize sights like the Wanderers compound via aromatic descriptions.
Sorcery Rising has all the elements that are required for the first novel in a series and it manages to take the conventions and keep them sufficiently fresh to care enough about what happens to the characters to keep reading. More than just a good first book of a series, it’s also just a pleasure to read, which is a gift at any time.