In a world where magic works part of the time and gods exist but are sleeping, Kumulhan, the Supreme High Priest of the Sky Father has decided to make the worship of his god supreme over all others before he wakes up. To ensure this, he launches a brutal war of conquest. Tochwyatis, a young sailor, finds himself playing a major part in the efforts to defeat Kumulhan.
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Frej Wasastjerna was born in Helsinki, Finland, in 1944. He has spent most of his life in Finland but started school in Boston, Massachusetts, and has several times worked in Germany for periods from one and a half to three months. He retired in 2009 from his job as a Senior Research Scientist at VTT, the Technical Research Centre of Finland and now spends some of his time writing fantasy and science fiction when he feels like it.
Recension av Maeve Sawyer:
In my opinion, the center of Tolkien’s stories was the plot. The center of the Harry Potter universe is its setting. This is the first fantasy book I’ve ever read since Ursula LeGuin where the center was the writing.
I found this book very well-edited, almost error-free. The story is told in third-person throughout, in the hero’s point of view. There are a couple of exceptions where the point of view briefly shifts to the hero’s love interest, but the story is mostly told through the eyes of Tochwyatis. His home country of Maimo, whose culture seems close to Finnish, or perhaps Swedish, is under attack by a horde of nomads that reminded me of the Mongols. The world’s religious pantheon is a very simple one.
Most fantasy books, if they lose readers, do so at the beginning, where the authors are wrangling with the conflicting needs for action and exposition. The author deals with this challenge nicely, often embedding bits of exposition seamlessly in scenes of conflict. It also helps that this book, while not overly long, has 37 chapters. Some chapters are fast and some are slow, so the fast-paced chapters seem even quicker — while even a slow chapter doesn’t seem very slow.
The hero starts learning sorcery at the beginning of the tale, and even at the end of it he’s no expert. The action of casting spells is dealt with in a simple, though dramatic, manner. The theory is an intriguing mix of astronomy and alchemy, but is also simple. It comes up now and then for specific plot reasons, but the reader isn’t taxed.
Toch travels a lot in this story. The distances aren’t always vast, but a lot of it’s in stormy weather over awful terrain. And while this hero comes from humble beginnings (as many fantasy heroes do), he stays humble. For real. Not in a “time to save the world again” kind of way, or even a “my life sucks” kind of way, but the real deal. His greatest asset is not his combat prowess or magical talent, but his common sense. His thoughts are refreshingly simple, and focus on practical things that left me wanting more details about the journeys.
Practical details of these story seem well-researched. The author details the travails of being a mounted crossbowman, winter at sea, and how to fool pursuing trackers in heavy snow. He refuses to gloss over the mundane aspects of this story; he doesn’t dwell on them too long either, so they don’t drag, but they do make the exciting parts more exciting. He doesn’t shy away from how the basics of horseback riding might be lost on sailors (when they fail to care for their horses properly, they aren’t allowed to simply get away with it).
I laughed a bit when I saw the hero forced to carry a bucket of snow into battle with him. I found myself saying: “Of course he’s carrying a bucket of snow, it makes sense. How does he keep getting into these things?”
The minor characters in this story don’t know they’re minor characters. When they die, it matters. As the hero was crawling across a frozen river to keep his weight spread out, I groaned when I saw one of the hero’s temporary companions fall through the ice. I breathed a sigh of relief to find he had fallen in only to his knees, only to worry again when I recognized that he might lose his feet to frostbite.
I didn’t care for the ending that much. But when I tried to figure out why, I suppose it was because the ending answered too many questions. But while I prefer reading a series, I know some fantasy readers prefer “standalone” books to series, in which case such an ending can be a strength. So I didn’t reduce my rating on that account.
I loved the confrontation between Tochwyatis and Ugude, the “Khan” of the Tagaiashan Horde. The author simply did not care about the conventions of how fantasy novels are supposed to handle such confrontations between the hero and the villain — in the fight or in the immediate aftermath. I was surprised at first, and then afterward found myself wondering why I had found it surprising because in retrospect it all seemed so “believable”. Personally, I like it when big confrontations go that way.
I had a great time with the book, and I think it might also be a good “gateway” book for someone who likes historical fiction and wants to give fantasy a try. There is no profanity and no explicit sex. There are some references to barbaric treatment, including torture, of captured prisoners, but it is referred to rather than experienced directly.