RT Book Reviews: Pilgrim

pilgrim-usa-1stedition2005 Epic Fantasy Novel Nominee

The second book in the Wayfarer Redemption trilogy continues this effective tale from a master fantasist. The world Douglass portrays stands with the most inventive creations of fantasy literature. This is definitely a middle book in the series, and knowledge of the previous volume is vital, but fans of the first will most definitely not be disappointed—particularly with Faraday, Caelum’s mother, who provides a strong female counterpart. Douglass’ characters, both good and evil, move beyond stereotypes into flesh and blood.

RT Rating 4.5 stars

©2005 Jen Talley Exum / RT Times. To read the full review on the RT Times website please click on this link.

The Reviewers Choice Best Book Awards

RT Book Reviews are a US based website that not only reviews books, but publish a magazine, run a writers community and run conventions as well as having their Reviewers Choice Awards. In their own words:

The Reviewers’ Choice Awards honor the best books of the year and the winners and nominees are selected by our staff of over 50 reviewers representing the readers’ voice in the women’s fiction industry.

Sara Douglass was nominated three times for the Reader Choice Awards by RT Book Reviews in her category. The nominations were:



This is a big book (mind you, thousands of words are likely to get cut in editing!), possibly as large as Enchanter and StarMan. The problem with Pilgrim is that it has a very clear ending, and although I thought seriously about trying to finish at an earlier point in the plot line, it just wouldn’t have worked.

So what happens? The basic plot of Pilgrim concerns itself with the resurrection of Qeteb – thus I had to end at Grail Lake with Qeteb finally rising from death. The TimeKeepers travel about to all the Lakes, negotiate the traps the Enemy left in place, and gather together warmth, breath, movement and soul and reconstitute their beloved Midday Demon. This takes them some months – enough time for a couple of other things to happen to intrigue the reader!

At the end of Sinner, the Demons had broken through the Star Gate. Caelum, Zared and some 30,000 men were encamped in the northern Silent Woman Woods, Axis, Azhure and the other Star Gods were somewhere close to the Ancient Barrows, and Faraday had struggled out of the Star Gate chamber with Drago in tow. Basically Pilgrim begins as everyone gathers in Caelum and Zared’s camp (imagine the scene as Axis and Caelum come face to face with Drago!) and tries to work out what to do next. The immediate problem is how to survive – the TimeKeepers have broken through, and certain hours of the day are hell (so to speak) to venture forth. Tencendor – the land, the animals and the sundry races – are being devasted … the illustration above depicts it all very nicely. Axis, Azhure and Caelum decide to head off to Star Finger to see if there are any ancient texts, suggestions or secrets the ancient mountain harbours (remember in StarMan the mountain was basically turned into a massive library), Zared decides he has to get himself and the army back to Carlon (How?? What do you do with an army of 30,000 men when you have to scamper across two weeks’ worth of plains to get home when every third or fourth hour is going to be a nightmare?), Zenith and StarDrifter head off to the Minaret Peaks to have a chat to FreeFall about what’s happening, and Faraday and Drago (who is slightly the worse for wear after Axis has finally had a go at him) head off to Cauldron Lake to meet with Noah and find out what’s what.

Without giving away too much of the story, here follow some broad plot lines that appear in the book:

  • Who exactly is Drago (have you guessed yet?), and what did he mean when he said he was the Enemy? He literally is the Enemy, but so is Faraday, and so is Leagh, and so is Goldman, and so is DareWing … can you work out why?
  • I finally explore the incest theme to its fullest – what happens when 2 members of the SunSoar clan fall in love (or is that lust?), but have moral problems with the fact they are close relatives? I also have a look at the reasons why the SunSoars have this problem in the first instance (I use the story of the Sparrow in How the Icarii got their Wings).
  • Faraday finds, to her horror, that to some extent she is re-living the events of her previous life … does this mean she will again be sacrificed so that Tencendor can be saved? How does she feel about this, and how will it influence her original promise to aid Drago (I mean, having gone through what she did once, would you want to do it again?)?
  • The original Enchantress appears, having decided that everything has got out of control and she just has to put things right again. But who is she? (Hint: an old favourite from The Axis Trilogy.)
  • We find out who fathered the Acharite race (in the story How the Icarii got their Wings the Enchantress had three sons, each of whom founded the Acharite, the Icarii and the Charonite races) which has some amazing results for those of Acharite blood.
  • Those two friendly white donkeys finally get some action of their own.
  • Another white beast makes a startling comeback … and it isn’t Urbeth (although she appears as well).
  • Zared and Leagh have some ghastly problems … and of course Askam is in the thick of it.
  • You will finally find out what Sigholt’s bridge does when she decides someone isn’t true.
  • RiverStar’s murderer is revealed (of all the people who have written in with suggestions as to who it is, I don’t think anyone has got it right yet, although I’ve had some wonderful suggestions. To me, it is blindingly obvious, but then I guess I did write it …)
  • We find out what secret the basements of Star Finger (Talon Spike) really do contain … in StarMan there was a scene where the Gryphon invade the mountain, then get confused by strong enchantments that had been put in place to steer them clear of the basements of the mountain, where the Icarii were supposed to hide. Of course, the Icarii were not there, either having been evacuated or choosing death, but the book did mention there was something else there that was effectively screened from the Gryphon. What?
  • WolfStar finally gets a payback for all the wrongs he has done (this is a truly nasty, nasty scene, and I fully expect it to get the chop by a horrified editor!).
  • The book ends with Caelum’s dream about being hunted through the forest-cum-Maze becoming reality … but it has an unusual – and rather lovely – twist to the ending.

The book is so long because I had to take it to the point where Qeteb rises, and then is finally challenged by the StarSon (the actual end of the book). Meanwhile, there’s an awful lot of action going on.

©1998 Sara Douglass

Follow this link to see the maps of Tencendor and Escator, the realms where The Axis TrilogyThe Wayfarer RedemptionBeyond the Hanging Wall and Darkglass Mountain trilogy are set.

Editors note: Pilgrim is Book 2 of The Wayfarer Redemption. Overseas  it was book 5 of The Wayfarer Redemption and The Axis Trilogy was the first half of the series of six books.

OzLit: Pilgrim

pilgrim-1stedition-ausIf there is one thing a reviewer can confidently state about the work of Sara Douglass it is that it does not disappoint. Douglass has once again produced a novel of epic and fantastical proportions. Pilgrim, the second instalment in The Wayfarer Redemption teases, beguiles, shocks, gladdens and saddens: she drops her readers into an emotional chasm and doesn’t release them – she taunts them with, of all things, lilies!

So what can readers expect from this book after Sinner promised so much. Pilgrim fulfils the promises of its narrative predecessor and then offers all sorts of other imaginative treats and sombre repasts for the reader’s delectation. The TimeKeeper Demons have exploded from the Star Gate into the land of Tencendor and commenced their frenzied feeding, sucking the life and soul out of the land and its unwitting inhabitants. Faraday, Drago, Askam, Leah, Zared, Caelum and the once were gods – Axis and Azhure – appear helpless to prevent the destruction of all that they have nurtured and loved. They watch from the shadowy protection of the sacred trees and the inhospitable mountains as the Demons unleash their malignance on the seemingly unprepared world of Tencendor… but is the land the really the victim the grotesque Demons and the hapless StarLaughter believe it to be?

As the survivors of the Demon plague journey across the land to find a means of destroying the unwelcome visitors, so too the Demons attempt to fulfil their own frightening task: to bring their horrific master Qeteb back to life. Their journey is literally a soul-destroying event for the land while, paradoxically, being a soul-reclaiming journey for their master. Running parallel to the Demons disruptive and disgusting adventures throughout the land, are those of the principal protagonists. The main characters divide into a series of groups and begin a desperate search for solutions. Their search, whilst based primarily in the physical world, comes to represent an inner journey as well. The internal seeking is often as difficult, unpleasant and dark as the outer one. Some of the characters grow and metamorphose as a result of their pilgrimage; others do not but one gets the feeling that a suitable fate awaits all the individuals who dare to become pilgrims of their own souls.

Readers should take note that Douglass introduces some new elements into her tale confounding and fulfilling generic expectations. Science (fiction) is given a strong role within the tale as is mysticism and didacticism and, for the reader, these additions are more than satisfying and add an extraordinary dimension to an already magnificent tale. There is even a strong religious motif running through the book of death and rebirth; though to attribute this motif to any one religion would be to do the novel itself a dis-service. There is a sense in which the powerful forces of life, death and rebirth transcend any religious affiliation or, indeed, any essentialist interpretation. Douglass uses this motif to enhance and disrupt the gloom and doom of the book after all, promises of life-ever-after are difficult to keep and this sort of passport to immortality is not meant to be available to all. The question then arises – who will be granted access to such a sanctuary and all that it offers and under what conditions?

New characters are, once again, introduced. The cover of the book, which, I must admit, on first glimpsing seemed disappointing, becomes all too apparent and very relevant. The reptilian centrepiece of the jacket is an inspirational creature that wreaks both magic and mayhem on the various inhabitants of the suffering land. His bright coat and crystalline claws remind the characters (and the reader) that amidst the greatest darkness there is light and laughter. The Demons themselves become fleshed out as characters: vicious, maniacal and unrelenting – Douglass’ villains are always a Machiavellian delight. Old characters reappear and, it is at this point, that potential readers should be warned: Douglass shows no mercy. Those that sinned in the past finally pay for their crimes. The retribution that Wolfstar’s receives for the cold-blooded murders of his wife, child and the hundreds of Icarii children is unforgettable. It occurs as a series of unspeakable acts that ooze horror, violence and abhorrence that will leave readers feeling as though they too have been contaminated by the grey miasma that roams the land. Misery, in this novel, is all but unrelenting arising as it does out of actions, consequences and some very interesting secrets to which the reader is finally made privy. Drago also suffers physically and psychologically as a consequence of his earlier crimes. Drago’s punishment for crimes unproven and known is not surprising but, when it arrives is swift and, in true Douglass fashion, extraordinary. I think it would be very interesting to study Douglass’ novels as a commentary on dysfunctional familial relationships – she works family dynamics very well and makes no apologies for either the lack or excessiveness of parental and sibling love that permeates her work.

On a more positive note, Urbeth reappears and tells a tale, the Donkeys reappear and lose their tails and an old friend from the Axis trilogy with a long tail trots through the pages to finally claim his long deserved reward for faithfulness. The father of one race introduces himself and the mother of all the races that populate the planet tells the story of her many loves and her wild, unpredictable children. All of these characters add depth and scope to the story ensuring that, unlike the antihero who dominates the trilogy, the reader does not want to leave the narrative maze that Douglass has created. For answers to the puzzles Douglass has left the reader with, like the transformative potential of the land, Drago and the contents of his magical sack, the outcome of romantic relationships and the ravages and anguish of Qeteb and his Demon pack, the reader will have to wait.

Pilgrim is never predictable – except in the way that all good fantasy fiction can and should be. Characters are redeemed, reclaimed, regrown and all undergo transformation in this marvellous bildungsroman narrative. As the story approaches its end, Douglass has set the scene for a marvellous conclusion. This tale has it all: adventure, romance, horror, death, murder, birth, rape, grief, madness, humour and pathos. Where will Crusader, the final instalment in this thrilling trilogy, venture? Knowing Douglass, it will be to places and spaces that no reader has ever gone before.

©1998 Dr Karen Brooks / OzLit. Reproduced in full with permission from Dr Brooks.