william thompson

SF Site: The Nameless Day

the-nameless-day-us-1stedWith The Nameless Day, Sara Douglass has ventured well beyond the mummery of Tolkien found in her Axis and The Wayfarer’s Redemption books, while still retaining the basic garb of high fantasy. And, considering the usual expectations of readers evident in sales figures for this genre, some might suggest the author is treading risky ground.

At its most basic, this is an alternate history, set within the conflicts of the Hundred Years’ War amidst the divisions within the Church between the political papacies of Rome and Avignon. Broad, at times detailed scholarship of the period is evident, and few of the historical figures for the mid-14th century have not assumed a role as characters, up to and including Chaucer. Using the epic scope of the conflict, one that gripped most of Europe within a morass of political and military upheaval and intrigue the equal of any to be found in fiction, Douglass has interposed into that struggle a largely unseen battle waged between angels and demons for control over mankind’s future, of which the earthly conflicts are but a mortal reflection.

Rather boldly, the author has chosen to use heavily and emotionally freighted topics and symbols perceived primarily through the eyes of a man more villain than hero, and has done so in a manner that continues to mask her ultimate motives. This is somewhat a gutsy move on the part of the author, as previously mentioned, the novel reading more as if a traditional historical fantasy than metaphor, with “heroes” such as Thomas and the religious overtones borrowed from Christianity unlikely to attract the casual fantasy reader, let alone the majority of those who comfortably embraced the largely romantic and heroic escapism found in Axis or The Wayfarer’s Redemption. Yet for those willing to bank that there is more going on here than meets the eye, and that many of the characters’ actions may well serve allegorical ends appearing poised by book’s end to become turned upon themselves, there looks to be rewards awaiting further development in successive volumes for what is admittedly a slow, not always clearly evolving story. However, the author’s reluctance to rush her story need not necessarily be seen as just another example of conformance to the demands of door-stopper fantasy.

But this appears a far more serious and ambitious work than her previous novels, and one where the author seems overall in control of her craft. Further, it looks as if Douglass is intentionally allowing her plots and themes to simmer, intending to bring her narrative slowly to a boil. For that reason, those seeking mere action to drive along the story will likely want to look elsewhere, as will those desiring a repeat of Axis and The Wayfarer’s Redemption. However, if the understated hints provided in this work are any indication of the author’s future intent for her use of allegory and symbolism, all of which appear but masks to deeper themes and issues, mimicking their borrowed traditions but subtly being altered to serve a very different purpose, then her strategy for gradually letting her story reveal itself may in the end prove well suited. This waits to be seen: on its own, this novel is not entirely successful. But as an introduction to a larger vision, one that is attempting to incorporate themes at the core of human existence, both within the context of past and present, this may yet signal in the books to come the announcement of a singular work in progress, deserving of further and greater notice.

©2002 William Thompson / SFsite.com. To read the full review on the SF website please click on this link.