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Banewreaker
Jacqueline Carey
Tor, 432 pages

Banewreaker
Jacqueline Carey
Jacqueline Carey was born in 1964 in Highland Park, Illinois. After receiving B.A. degrees in psychology and English literature, she spent half a year living in London and working in a bookstore, travelling once the work permit expired. Upon returning to the U.S., she embarked on a writing career, travelling when possible, thus far ranging from Finland to Egypt. She currently lives in western Michigan, where she is a founding member of the oldest Mardi Gras krewe in the state.

Jacqueline Carey's Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Kushiel's Chosen
SF Site Review: Kushiel's Chosen
SF Site Review: Kushiel's Dart

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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Common to most mythologies is the notion that once upon time a god (or the gods) used to walk among his (or her) mortal subjects until some catastrophic event causes estrangement. (Recommended reading on this subject in terms of the Judeo-Christian Bible is God: A Biography by Jack Miles.) Jacqueline Carey's Banewreaker is the first volume in The Sundering series, the title of which serves to underline this theme.

In Carey's version, the gods in the form of the Seven Shapers are still amidst us, but the siblings are quarreling. You know, the usual things related to just how much they should let the beings they created in on their own good thing. Satoris, the youngest god, gets cast out by eldest (and chief among equals) brother Haomane for getting too chummy with Men, and in the process suffers a deep wound that does not heal (shades of Prometheus and the Grail King no doubt intended). A prophecy predicts the resulting imbalance, caused by this banishment, between both the gods and the races of creation will be healed and harmony restored with the destruction of Satoris.

In attempting to prevent the prophecy, Satoris initiates actions that, in true tragic fashion, seems instead to move events towards its realization. Key to the prophecy is the marriage between the mortal Aarocus, most recent in a long line of kings of the house of Altrous, and Cerelinde, Lady of the immortal Ellyon. Satoris dispatches Tanaros Blacksword, one of a triumvirate of beings made immortal by Satoris, to disrupt the wedding ceremony, capture the Lady and bring her to the fallen god's lair at Darkhaven. While Tanaros succeeds in his mission, trouble may be brewing with growing hints of an attraction between Tanaros and the prisoner princess (which will no doubt play out further in the next volume). Making things a bit more complicated is that Tanaros is himself a banished figure of evil. Centuries ago as a mortal man, he loyally served Roscious, an earlier king of Altrous. But when Tanaros discovered his beloved wife was having an affair with Roscious, he kills them both, thereby earning the double appellations of Wifeslayer and Kingslayer, with Shakespearean allusions to both Othello and perhaps also Julius Caesar, as well as a darker variation of the Arthurian mythos.

So here we are in anti-hero land, where the bad guys behave better than the good guys, and are generally more interesting. Indeed, it's frequently said that the original anti-hero, Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost, is a more sympathetic character than God, and Carey is true to the motif -- and just to make sure you get the reference, the novel's epigraph is from the classic poem, reading in part, "...all good to me is lost; Evil be thou My Good."

Here's where your humble reviewer himself resorts to another time-honored convention that typically begins, "In the hands of a less capable writer..." While the synopsis above sounds a bit too much like your trite "fantasy by the numbers" (and I haven't even mentioned the tough but lovable dwarves), it isn't. A Tolkienesque riff, sure, but a well-played inversion in which the forces of evil get their point of view presented in a better light. Carey is a wonderful storyteller, and just because you pick up on all the obvious hints of impending disaster, it doesn't matter any more than it matters that you already know that Satan is going to lose out or that Othello is doomed to be duped by Iago. You care about the story, and you care about the characters who, even with their flaws caught up in something larger than themselves, helpless in determining the larger and inevitable outcome, still like Sisyphus rolling ever upward are able to retain their dignity and honor even as they suffer. And somehow attain a fleeting sense of freedom.

Things don't look too promising for Satoris and Tanaros as the conclusion of the duology (and let's be grateful that Carey breaks with the Tolkien's in triplicate form) is called Godslayer, due out in August. Here's a conclusion you can anticipate in a number of respects and still look forward to.

Copyright © 2005 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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