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Empress of the Endless Dream:
Fifth Book of The Orokon

Tom Arden
Victor Gollancz, 448 pages


Kevin Jenkins
Empress of the Endless Dream
Tom Arden
Tom Arden was born in 1961 and grew up in Mount Gambier, a small town in Australia. He wrote his first novel, Moon Escape, when he was seven years old -- a tale of lunar explorers kidnapped by evil aliens. He has been in bands and worked as a disc jockey on a public radio station. Studying English at the University of Adelaide, he graduated with First Class Honours. Later he completed a PhD thesis on Clarissa, the epic tale by the 18th-century novelist Samuel Richardson. In 1990, Tom moved to the UK and for some years was a university lecturer in Northern Ireland. He now lives in Brighton.

Tom Arden Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Sultan of the Moon and Stars
SF Site Review: The Harlequin's Dance / The King and Queen of Swords

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

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I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Tom Arden last year. I asked him about the fifth and final volume of The Orokon which, at that time, was still some months from publication. He said: "I can promise shocks, surprises, and a very offbeat and unconventional ending. More than one major character will die." On all counts, his promises were delivered.

Empress of the Endless Dream is a brilliant end to the series for many reasons, not least because it is indeed an offbeat ending. You know there has to be a final confrontation between Ejard Blue the usurper and Ejard Red the deposed, and there is; you know there has to be a final confrontation between Jem and Toth, and there is; but believe me when I say that, whatever you're expecting, what you get is not quite it.

As Jem and company return to Ejland for the final stage of the quest, the reader is reacquainted with several characters from earlier volumes. And after two full books in exotic, far-off locales, the reader shares in Jem's sense of coming home. If you've ever spent a long time abroad -- either travelling extensively or living in a foreign country -- then you'll understand the meaning of the phrase "the biggest culture shock is coming home." Jem has gone through quite a lot since he was last in Ejland, and the reader has gone with him. So it's a weird mix of familiar and strange when we return to Agondon.

Much of the series has included dreams and sequences that seem very dream-like; the title of this final volume should provide a clue that there's no shortage of that sort of thing here either. Very near the end of the book, at the beginning of the final section, there is an interlude in which the author makes one of his rare addresses directly to the reader. This address is very brief -- only a page -- and yet it is one of the most deeply insightful pieces I have encountered on the similarities between fiction, dream and life. All three of these are accorded an equal importance here, just as all three share a similar ultimate sense of melancholy at their passing. Here the author pauses for a moment to slap the reader right in the face and say, hey wake up, the book is about to end. And end badly, in all likelihood. And so is the author's life, and so is yours. Life, after all, always ends in death.

So enjoy it while it lasts -- and for pity's sake, pay attention!

The Orokon is easily one of the most original and most entertaining fantasy series of the past decade or more. I loved it; I despised it; I loved it; it never left me cold. The barest outline might lead you to believe that it's just another quest fantasy, carved of the same old mould. But Arden shakes the dust off those weary clichés and twists them into all manner of weird and wonderful surprises. The cleverness of the language and the multitude of writing styles used throughout the series never ceased to delight me, right down to the very occasional smattering of abysmally bad verse. The unconventional characters -- all larger than life, none drawn in black and white -- never became tedious company, even if several were particularly odious individuals. Some aspects of the story progressed in such a way that I thought I could see what was coming: sometimes I was right, and smugly pleased with myself; sometimes I was right, and dreadfully unhappy about it; sometimes I was flabbergasted at how entirely wrong I was. At times I thought the author had gone too far down the road to bad taste; some scenes made me distinctly uncomfortable. At times I was laughing out loud.

Often I hoped the dream would indeed prove endless. And so it is that, happily unlike life or dreams, with fiction I have the option and the privilege to start from the beginning again and experience it all once more.

Copyright © 2000 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.


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