Heaven's Needle, by Liane Merciel
Mass Market Paperback: 473 pages
Publisher: Pocket Star Books (Simon & Schuster), ©2011
Liane Merciel released a well-crafted debut effort (The River Kings' Road) a little over a year ago, it was a fine effort, in fact an effort that left an indelible imprint which served as a reminder to acquire and read her next work as quickly as reasonably possible. After having just completed the final, and stunning, four hundred and seventy-three pages, I am rather relieved. Perhaps a fear of the worst prevailed as I approached this new work, but happily it can be said that Merciel suffered no sophmore jinx. Heaven's Needle is everything one might have hoped for, and certainly everything Merciel promised it would be in previous interviews.
In Heaven's Needle, Merciel brings back a couple of characters from the first book, Kelland and Bitharn, and a host of new characters. The new characters include a Thornlord of Ang'arta, a sigrir warrior woman of the far northern seas, some novices of Celestia, some tragic, if ethically challenged, victims and a Mad God. Based upon the ending of the first book, it was expected that the next novel of Ithelas was due to take a darker turn - and it sure did that.
Kelland and Bitharn are agents of Celestia. Referred to as the Bright Lady, she is the goddess of sunlight, healing, love and, generally speaking, all things good. While the story briefly introduces many of the gods of this world, only three play a major role. Celestia, Maol and Kliasta. Kliasta, referred to as the Pale Maiden, rules over things such as pain and agony. Maol, the Mad God, is equal parts plague, madness and stomach-pumping vileness.
Kelland and Bitharn join forces with the Thornlord Malentir, a follower of Kliasta and under more ordinary conditions a natural enemy. This unlikeliest of alliances is bound for Duradh Mal, a once powerful fortress now utterly dead, abandoned and corrupt many centuries later. Another party is also involved in the region. From this other party is a character with a great background story, Asharre. Asharre is a sigrir from the North and she has become rather grim of late, and for very good reason. Nothing further will be said of Asharre, other than Merciel has another top-shelf character to work with in the Ithelas world.
The element of horror involved in Heaven's Needle is well rendered. The sense of madness infecting the victims of the Mad God is gut churning and wretched. The loss of connection to reality and the seduction, by confusion, of the individual's free-will is horrifying. As if the things suffered by the victims weren't bad enough, what the victims do to themselves is even worse. As the protagonists reach points of confrontation with evil and madness, the reader may be inclined to put the book down to avoid soul abrasion. It is herein attested to that you will just pick it right back up to find out what happened and if any of it will be permanent or irrevocable.
Stepping back to take in the wider view presented by the totality of the two books, one might be reminded of World War II. Specifically in the context of how several different things must contemporarily occur in order for something so horrifying to take place on such a horrifying scale. These first novels of Ithelas seem to be the staging groundwork for a much larger conflict which lightly percolates beneath the surface...for now.
Heaven's Needle is an excellent work for Merciel. In my particular opinion, Merciel has created something that will certainly be followed, as well as having created a fan. I would like more Ithelas, however I would like it right now...please.
Review adapted from Peter’s blog review at Ubiquitous Absence
Peter Dowd, May 2011
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