Sara Douglass’ fantasy began appearing in the United States in March 2001, but she has received the Aurealis (the Australian Fantasy) award and she has been proclaimed as Australia’s best selling author. Many have compared Douglass’ writing, and in particular, this series of books to many of the popular purveyors of Big Fat Fantasy such as Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind and Terry Brooks. I don’t know if that is such fair comparison, as Douglass has created a world wholly her own, in the land of Tencendor populated by the fascinating Icarii race, the monstrous Skraelings and the well detailed and imagined religions.
Starman, the concluding volume of Sara Douglass’ first trilogy ties up loose ends and confirms mysterious suspicions of many characters and indeed, readers of the previous volumes in the saga. Axis, the prophesized savior and redeemer figure of the books’ title, has gone through much in the previous volumes to get to the events in this novel. He has united the broken lands of Tencendor, disposed of his human half-brother Bornheld and married his Love. All was necessary to prepare him for his prophesized final battle with Gorgrael, the Destroyer, who also happens to be Axis’ half-brother.
There is much to enjoy in this novel, the triangular tense relationship between Axis, Faraday and Azhure. The tension built up over the previous novels, with Axis’ love as the focal point of this tension. Faraday and Azhure easily could have grown apart as bitter enemies, but the way Douglass built these characters mutual respect was handled very well. The characters, for the most part are well drawn and reading the book, I cared about them, and what would happen to them.
A sense of duality is an overriding theme, which has played throughout the series and drew to a head in this book. The most obvious is the good v. evil theme. Another duality is that of the dual bloodlines of the primary players in this saga. Some of this is laid out in the previous volumes such as Axis’ dual heritage of a human mother and Icarii father. Axis and Azhure had twin children. Axis confronted his half-brother Bornheld in the previous volume while he now must confront his other half-brother Gorgrael in this volume. The character pulling all the strings is the epitome of duality as he plays both sides of the conflict. The religion of Artor the Plow god and the Nine of the Circle was another conflicting duality that reached a satisfying conclusion in Starman.
Possibly the strongest and most admirable quality of the story was, as I stated above, the vitality and richness of the world of Tencendor. From well-depicted geographic regions such as the ice regions and the forest to the village of Smyrton, the world has an authentic feel. The sense of myth that Douglass has imbued in her tale resonated. In Starman, the Skraelings took a back seat to her other monstrous creatures, the Gryphons, which were more frightening and dangerous. One problem I had with the first volume, The Wayfarer Redemption (BattleAxe outside the US) was that the villain, Gorgrael was a typical ‘Dark Lord.’ Hidden in the north, veiled in shadows and mystery and more of a puppet master than anything else, we did not get much of an impression of Gorgrael other than that he was EEEEVIL. In the second volume, Enchanter, and even more so here in the concluding volume, Gorgrael emerged as a more fleshed out character. We see him talking to another mysterious “Dark Man” as Gorgrael has named him. This Dark Man took a more prominent role in this volume as well, we got to see him as more of an integral part of the story, while still leaving a lot about his character unresolved and open for exploration in further volumes.
Despite the right amount of details and the well-drawn characters, there were some drawbacks to the story. For the most part I found the story a bit predictable. The identity of Traitor in the Prophecy was given in the first volume and the fact that one of the primary characters who had last seen this Traitor was surprised at his true identity was a tough oversight to ignore. Often the characters would discuss things “off-stage.” That is, the characters would make plans, but not let the reader in on what was going on until it happened. While this can be a good storytelling technique, in this case, it was a bit over-used.
I suspect that Douglass’ intention in writing these books was capturing many of the genre’s characteristics, molding them with her own imagination, and spinning and entertaining tale. If that is the case, then she has succeeded.
Despite the minor flaws, I found the novel entertaining, very compelling and a satisfying conclusion to the storyline. This final volume in the trilogy left the door open for additional novels, and indeed Tor is bringing the books onto the US shelves.Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford