|Submitted by Francesca von Braun-Bates |
(Nov 30, 2003)
Australian author Ian Irvine has been wise enough not to invest his heroes and heroines with god-like or idealized qualities, and magic, while powerful, is more involved with the mastery of the mind, illusion and compulsion than fireballs or earth-shattering 'quakes. This debut novel therefore starts with some promise, boding not to become just another rehash of Tolkien, Eddings or Brooks.
The first character the reader meets, Llian, is a student of history and teller of the past, complete with all the passions and insecurities one would expect from one about to graduate from the shelter of school in order to make his way out into a larger world of which, beyond his study of its past, he truly knows little about. A brilliant academic, he nonetheless is the fool when it comes to any common sense approach to the world around him. Nor are the other characters populating this work the standard cutouts from fantasy: there is a discernable lack of gender bias and all possess, to one degree or another, characteristics in conflict with each other, failings as well as strengths. Villains within the tale are more menacing or intriguing than a representation of monolithic evil, and receive equal and conflicting characterization. Romantic episodes are handled deftly and with a light touch.
Perhaps the author's greatest accomplishment in this debut is in the evolving creation of his world. In many respects the author has developed a world largely his own, in which humans are the oldest race, along with remnants left of three alien and uninvited cultures.
Obviously this is a tale at once ambitious and complex in scope, requiring tight plotting and storytelling skills in order to be successful. Unfortunately, this work possesses some of the flaws and stumbles expected from a debut novel, regardless of the fact that Irvine spent ten years writing this quartet. For all its strengths, the narrative flow is uneven, shifting at times awkwardly in time and place, with characters' emotional responses to events or one another occasionally as variable as the weather. While there are obvious examples that can be observed in human behavior -- moodiness, manic-depression -- within the context of a written story, a hint as to the cause of a mood swing is as often as not absent here. Also revelations and events occur all too frequently with convenient serendipity, while other episodes, such as Karan's recurring dementia and recovery remaining vaguely explained and unclear. The use of narrative flashbacks to provide historical background is only partly successful, especially when reviewed through the present tense, seeming at times interjected and contrived. Finally, Faelamor's Story, in Chapter 31, rushes and summarily deals with too many significant events not to undermine the credibility of the story that has preceded.
But the real failing of this narrative arrives at the end. After having built toward an expectant conclusion, the book instead halts abruptly and in confusion, a rapid chain of events that leaves the reader uncertain of what has actually taken place, and without any real sense of resolution. While I assume the author intended this handling as a means to build suspense for the next novel in the series, taking the notion of a cliffhanger to its extreme conclusion, even accepting the use of this device, the final chapter fails to deliver, ending on a turn of events that demands immediate continuance, and that I found the most dissatisfactory ending I have encountered in recent memory.
There are enough positive qualities in the storytelling overall, despite the infuriating failure at the end and the work's other flaws, to recommend the second installment in expectation that the author will improve upon his tale. But for the moment, promotional comparisons to Robert Jordan or J.V. Jones are inapt, this story so far lacking the tight narrative flow and plotting found in those authors' work. The Tower on the Rift, the second part in The View From The Mirror, will need to resolve or avoid many of the problems encountered here for the series to be justifiably called a great epic.