|Submitted by Helen Kerslake |
(Jan 25, 2005)
This book is the first of a trilogy based around the life of a man, Axis, born as the bastard son to the Princess Rivkah. We see him struggle against both evil forces threatening his homeland and the personal conflict with his half-brother, Borneheld, which has existed since his birth and is now coming to a head as they fight for the affections of a young princess. The book is set in the heart of a cruel winter, and I found myself physically shivering because of the wonderful use of imagery the author has used and the highly descriptive, but still realistic language. The story shifts between various perspectives as the main characters are separated and we follow the events they go through and see the changes brought about through these experiences. I enjoyed seeing this complex web of sideline plots and was impressed with how skilfully Sara Douglass manages to weave them together. She reveals just enough to keep the reader interested without spoiling the element of surprise before the ending. In particular, the way she sets out the beginning few chapters, with snippets of events happening across the land, you are not sure what exactly is going on besides something gruesome and rather frightening, but these pieces do come together over the course of the book.
Douglass has refused to follow the traditional path of fantasy writers and instead, this highly original fantasy world, free of elves, dwarves and dragons, is comprised of its own unique races of people. A lot of thought and imagination has gone into who these races are, what sets them apart from others and their history which has led to where they are in the current scheme of things. My favourite race would have to be the Icarii (birdpeople as they are sometimes referred to), who I picture as beautiful, angel-like creatures yet with powerful bodies and extraordinary powers. The way in which the Icarii in particular are described gave me vivid images of who they are, both as a collective people and individuals, and I found myself feeling pain and sadness when anything brutal happened to these gorgeous beings.
The characters in this story are interesting, cleverly written and highly believable in their actions and attitudes. As a female reader I immediately saw why Faraday was so drawn to Axis and not his brother. I found it easy to relate to her personally as she is a strong-willed, intelligent female character unlike some of the stereotyped women of other fantasy books. I loved the language used to describe the forces being faced, incidents which occurred and the humans’ reactions to being attacked – Sara Douglass is not afraid to use strong language and the way in which she described these frightening scenes made me feel genuinely scared.
My only criticism would be that I do not think the writer has spent enough time on the central relationship between Axis and Faraday. There are a few brief scenes in the castle before they leave on their journey, and a few between them while on the road, however there is not enough development in their feelings towards each other to justify their actions and responses later on. It would have been better to have them spend longer on the road together and really brew the conflict and love between them before sending them on their separate paths to meet up at a later date.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and became so wrapped up in the story that I bought the next two books of the series before even finishing the first so that I do not have to endure unnecessary waiting to see where the story goes from here. The final chapters to ‘Battleaxe’ are written perfectly for the first book of a trilogy – they provided enough of an ending so that the reader feels satisfied, but leave plenty of questions unanswered and a further mission to justify additional books.