OzLit: Enchanter

enchanter-1steditionFantasy sequels are so unpredictable. Not only is the wait between instalments interminable, too often the first book in a new series sets up expectations in the reader that are often dashed in a miserable and disappointing fashion when the second book appears. This occurs, generally speaking, for two reasons: firstly, because the sequel is so much better that it renders its predecessor invalid and by association makes the reader suspicious and feeling like s/he is the victim of the literary market (the Black Trillium, Blood Trillium books for example), or secondly, because it is banal by comparison. Eddings and McCaffrey have, despite their prolific outputs, avoided this situation so far; Lackey and Norton, on the other hand, after a brilliant opening novel (Elvenbane), produced a boring and disappointing follow-up. Enchanter, Book Two of The Axis Trilogy by Sara Douglass, I am pleased to say, not only meets readers expectations, it also confounds them!

In BattleAxe Douglass introduced us to a fantastical land bursting with resplendent characters whose destinies were all being controlled by a cryptic prophecy. Enchanter lures the reader even further into the labyrinthine depths and unpredictable purposes of the Prophecy of the Destroyer while continually posing the question: who is the architect of the prophecy and what is his purpose? A purpose that turns more sinister with each page.

The book is long, but is broken into numerous chapters. This type of divisioning is a signal of clever marketing as it makes the book, despite its length, very accessible for either slow or fast readers; it can be comfortably put down and picked up again without a great sense of disorientation. I also liked the fact that the chapters are titled — an indication of their contents, though some of the titles seemed to be the result of creative desperation rather than subtle guidelines!

What I found particularly enthralling about Enchanter was the fact that you can not anticipate either the characters or the action. Just when you think you have solved a riddle or predicted an outcome, the story twists and confounds even the most rational of observations, thus managing to titillate in unexpected ways. This is partly due to the introduction of some new actors like the tattooed Ho’ Demi and his band of “savage” Ravensbundmen, the knowledgeable and generous Ysgryff, the daunting Alaunt, and the deadly but beautiful Wolfstar…but wait, there is more! The familiar characters appear too: the Sentinels, the dogmatic Belial, the vain and oh-so-sensual Stardrifter, Borneheld and the rest of the company. And behind all this magic, death and mystery lurks the abhorrent Gorgrael whose inventiveness for evil explodes with devastating results. There are deliciously gory and often deserved deaths, there are frequent hard and furious battles, and some of the most imaginative spell-weaving I have yet encountered. There is blood, sex, love, compassion, and a good sprinkling of utter fear, and for those of you with stalwart morals…hang on. The reader is also, finally, taken along the wonderful Homeric “watery Pathways” of the Charonites and on an unforgettable journey to the gates of life and death.

Throughout Enchanter Douglass makes good uses of anachronies to give her characters richer histories and therefore more meaningful textual presences. This type of character genealogy is not often found in this genre, relying as it does on the threatening present and portents of an unknowable future to deliver its impact. Sometimes the histories are given as a retrospective to explain an apparently illicit romance, or sudden ill-feeling: convenient yes, but effective too.

At first I was a little disappointed at the treatment (or lack of) that Faraday, the central female protagonist of the first book receives, however, this is more than compensated for by the ever-growing and formidable presence of the mysterious Azhure. Azhure would have to be one of the most realistically and compassionately constructed fantasy heroes to date. She has a fabulous birthright, a shocking past, and a greater role in the prophecy (and indeed the trilogy!) than anyone would have foreseen. Enchanter is as much her story as it is Axis’s.

Enchanter may start a little slowly, and even disjointedly, but these minor aberrations are rapidly replaced by lyrical, tight and imaginative prose. This book is a sequel par excellence. It draws both characters and readers further into the land of Achar and the prophecy entwining us all in its riddles and spell-binding promises. The book tantalises AND delivers.

Book One, Battleaxe, was exciting new territory, compelling and satisfying; Book Two, Enchanter, is utterly enthralling and unputdownable…what does Douglass have in store for her ever-so-patient fans with Book Three, Starman?

This reader, for one, can’t wait to find out!

©1996 Karen Brooks / OzLit. Reviewed by Karen Brooks of the University of Wollongong for OzLit on 6 March, 1996. Reproduced in full with permission.

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