For those readers who, like myself, were captivated by the first two books of Douglass’ Axis trilogy, BattleAxe and Enchanter, the final instalment in this Manichean saga, appropriately entitled Starman, has now been released. The last book in a trilogy is often neglected in favour of its prequels, yet the final instalment represents the summit of all that has transpired before. What often happens is that the final text is placed in the unenviable position of being judged almost solely on the basis of its predecessors’ performance – as a type of lengthy conclusion. This means that the literary merits of a third book run the risk of being largely overlooked in favour of the outcome of the trilogy as an entirety. In the case of Starman, the reader anxiously ploughs ahead in the hope that the promises made in the first two books will be realised in the way s/he desires them to be. Does the Prophecy of the Destroyer conclude appropriately? Or are the author’s contrivances unsatisfactory in terms of reader wish-fulfilment? The final battle between Axis and Gorgrael is filled with presentiment and unexpected presences. Starman, and indeed, the first two books, have filled the reader with anticipation of this event and whilst the results are magnificent, the book refuses to let the reader ignore the literary qualities and subtle poetics that flow through the action. It has an energetic, dramatic, and surprising conclusion that will continue to delight and disturb readers long after they have turned the last page.
Starman is bursting with magic and mayhem and there is a cast of new characters and places who all contribute to its fantastical structure. There are the wonderful chitter chatters, the witty polar bear Urbeth, and the sisters of the Temple of the Stars, to name a few. We finally get to visit the Island of Mist and Memory and uncover Azhure’s unlikely ancestry and incredible destiny. WolfStar continues to weave the threads that connect the characters together and is instrumental in bringing the book to its horrifying conclusion. WolfStar is “humanised”in this book but, it seems, at the expense of his mystery. StarDrifter, on the other hand, will amaze and delight, as will Shra, Goodwife Renkin and Caelum. The Avar continue to pose a conundrum and are shrouded by a suppressed violence; their role in the future of Tencendor is not certain. And, finally, the Sentinels return and continue their quest, but be prepared – it has a heart-breaking twist.
The psychological and physical battles between the two major forces, Gorgrael and Axis, continue unabated and with shocking consequences. Gorgrael manages to complete his force by recruiting and corrupting the beleaguered Timozel; thus the traitor of the prophecy is exposed in all his glorious weakness and contempt. The reproductively insatiable Gryphon continue their bloodthirsty conquests, and I think a warning is appropriate: the descriptions of their murderous tactics should not be read on an empty stomach. The battles are convincing and, as a result, often nail-biting reading. The only flaw in the rapid ascent towards the climax is the sudden onset of Gorgrael’s self-doubt. While on the one hand, this can be read as a psychological inevitability, on the other, I found it puzzling, and a little too convenient. His sense of his own invincibility was quickly undermined by the sometimes spurious machinations of the DarkMan and, as necessary as these manipulations were, I felt the scenes involving the two of them lacked the authenticity of some of the other episodes.
This is only a very minor flaw in a marvellous and compelling fantasy epic. Axis truly comes into his own, but he continues to be matched in courage, resourcefulness, and rewards by the incomparable Azhure. This is what I particularly like about Douglass’ work – the women have a life and purpose of their own which is not subordinate to or even reliant upon men. Azhure, as I noted in a previous review, is a beautifully realised fantasy heroine; she has strengths aplenty, and flaws as well. And I think the twist on motherhood and mother love that Douglass provides the reader with in this book is a daring and, in many ways, strangely satisfying gesture that also, cleverly, leaves the way open for a sequel.
Starman has Faraday returning with a vengeance and, whilst not distorted by Axis’ shoddy treatment of her, she is appropriately bitter, and this makes her character all the more appealing and places an edge to her dedication. Her mysterious gift to Rivkah is a type of tender retribution whose consequences are still to be revealed. Faraday is an enigma, and while her final moments in the book are a sad if fitting tribute, I cannot help but think she deserved better.
Overall, I believe Starman offers everything the other two books promised – and more. It will alternately delight, shock, frustrate, excite, and sadden. It is an absolutely thrilling tale of breathless adventure and lusty romance, of bitter revenge and unquenchable hatred, of quiet dedication and deep passion. It seeks to answer all the questions posed by BattleAxe and Enchanter but, in typical Douglass fashion, it raises some more as well. Prepare to be deliciously frustrated by what is left unsaid!
Douglass is, without a doubt, the finest fantasy writer in Australia today; this trilogy has established her as the Starwoman of this genre – I look forward to reading more of this imaginative and talented writer’s work. If the characters of The Axis Trilogy do not cry out to her to continue their tale, then I think her eager readers should.
©1996 Karen Brooks
Review by Karen Brooks for OzLit, 1 November 1996. Reproduced in full with permission.