Aurealis: BattleAxe

The reprint of BattleAxe with cover by Shaun Tan.

Sit back, glass of port in one hand, Loreena McKennitt on the stereo, the latest Janny Wurts novel in hand … did I mention Janny Wurts? Not a bad comparison. Douglass’ writing is not yet so slick, but she has greater empathy for her characters and a sense of humour missing from Wurts. There is heart to BattleAxe, and more happens in it than in the average Wurts’ novel.

We open with the obligatory prophecy (incidentally, the worst piece of writing in the book), which tells us that there is due to be an epic war between brothers which will decide the fate of the three races of Achar.

Something mysterious and ugly is killing soldiers in the frozen north; refugees struggle south with tales of flesh-eating ghosts. Axis Rivkahson, BattleAxe of the Axe-Wielders of the Seneschal, is dispatched north with his troops to do battle with the enemy. On the way north he falls in love with his brother’s betrothed, meets two priests on the shore of an enchanted lake, finds he is the only being able to read an untranslated prophecy …

Fantasy readers will find the plotting familiar, but not tedious. Parts of the novel are beautifully handled. I enjoyed it.

Complaints? There are a couple. The prophecy gives away too much. Douglass is a historian by profession and has dragged in names and other elements of mythology from a number of cultures, resulting in a blend which doesn’t form a cohesive whole. The Charonites are a deus ex machina. The novel has a poorly-executed, patronizing cover which subliminally tells the punter that the publisher thinks the whole idea of fantasy is a crock of the proverbial.

Don’t believe it. If you enjoy epic fantasy, then give this novel a chance.

©1995 Bill Congreve / Aurealis. Reviewed by Bill Congreve for Aurealis, Issue no 15, p. 80 (back issues can be ordered from the Aurealis website). This review originally appeared on Sara Douglass’s website in full.

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