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Strange Horizons: Beyond The Hanging Wall

beyond-the-hanging-wall-us-editionMines, Magic, and Monarchy: Sara Douglass’s Beyond the Hanging Wall

Set in Douglass’s Wayfarer universe, this is a tale of a power struggle in the kingdom of Escator which leads to the teenaged heir’s supposed demise. But what only a few know — including the man who usurped the throne — is that the death was faked.

What makes this novel worth reading, despite the too-light editorial hand, is that Douglass has devised a world where healing and magic have their prices, kings are made by trial and not only by birthright, and characters possess enough cultural and individual diversity that they are not immediately known or understood by all others. Douglass sets up an interestingly complex magic system that exhibits some actual thought beyond the templates used in cookie-cutter fantasy novels. Maximilian’s reluctance to leave the world of the Veins, the only reality he’s known since boyhood, is a very plausible and human element of his story. There’s not much blood and thunder here; this is a more thoughtful tale.

This book has faults. Editorial work should have been concentrated in the first 50 pages, which is where Douglass repeats certain phrases too often and too close together.

Theses details chip away at that all-important suspension of disbelief required to immerse oneself in fantasy worlds; chip too much away and that little bridge collapses. This novel doesn’t quite do that, but the little gaps make the mind itch, just a bit.

The fact that this is a stand-alone fantasy novel is worth noting all on its own. Such novels are rarities nowadays, since multi-volume fantasy series continue to sell well despite critical name-calling (before it got to be more than three books in a series, it was called committing trilogy — interesting connotations there). While Beyond the Hanging Wall has some defects, it also has an involving story and characters who draw the reader into Douglass’s vividly constructed Wayfarer world.

©2004 J.G. Stinson / Strange Horizons. To read the full review on the Strange Horizons website please click on this link.