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The Wayfarer Redemption -- Book One: Battleaxe
Sara Douglass
Tor Books, 448 pages

The Wayfarer Redemption
Sara Douglass
Sara Douglass is the pseudonym of Sara Warneke. Sara worked as a nurse for several years and completed three degrees, culminating in a PhD in early modern European history. She now teaches both medieval and early-modern history at La Trobe University in Bendigo, Australia. Her fantasy adventures, The Axis Trilogy and The Wayfarer Redemption, are the best-selling fantasy series ever in Australia, and Book 3 of the first trilogy, StarMan, won the 1996 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel.

The Worlds of Sara Douglass
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

This book marks first US publication for Douglass, one of Australia's most popular fantasy authors.

More than a millennium ago, in the land of Tencendor, three races lived in harmony: human beings, the winged mountain-dwelling Icarii, and the Avar, a people wise in the ways of the forests and the earth. But then a new faith rose up among the humans, the Way of the Plough, which taught that mountains and woodlands and other wild places were evil, and must be either avoided or subdued. Led by the Seneschal, the religious leadership of the Way of the Plough, humans ruthlessly drove the Icarii and the Avar into exile. Over the centuries these races passed into legend, known collectively as the Forbidden.

Of that ancient time, only a secret prophecy survives, foretelling that one day the races must unite again to combat a terrible evil. Five immortal, magical Sentinels serve as guardians of this prophecy; for centuries they've walked the world, waiting for the prophecy to awaken.

Now it seems the time may be at hand. From the north come reports of unusual cold and ice. Gorkenfort, the kingdom's most northern outpost, suffers devastating attacks from horrifying wraith-like creatures that kill without mercy and devour the dead. Axis, bastard son of a royal house and leader of the Axe-Wielders, the elite military arm of the Seneschal, is ordered to march to the aid of the embattled fort. With him goes Faraday, engaged to Borneheld, Axis's hated half-brother and commander of Gorkenfort. Along the way, Axis and Faraday fall secretly in love; strange supernatural events shatter their beliefs about the history of their land, and draw from them unsuspected talents and abilities. Each, it becomes apparent, has a vital part to play in the unfolding prophecy. But there's much in the prophecy that isn't clear, and time is growing short. Axis and Faraday are faced with terrible choices -- and if either chooses wrongly, all is lost.

The Wayfarer Redemption is competent commercial fantasy. Fans of the mega-epic, as codified by Eddings and Jordan, will likely find that it hits all the right notes. Douglass doesn't waste time on preliminaries, but plunges the reader directly into the story; she keeps the action humming throughout the book, with many supernatural encounters and a good deal of gritty battle action. Infodumps are avoided, and there's little sense of padding. The mystery of the prophecy opens up believably, and there's enough suspense in Axis's and Faraday's journey of discovery to keep the reader wondering what will come next.

Anyone hoping for something out-of-the-ordinary, however (as I was, given Douglass's reputation), will probably be disappointed. This is fantasy of the most conventional sort. The plot, while ably constructed, is a compendium of the stockest of stock fantasy elements: the ancient prophecy, the magical guardians, the all-consuming evil, the feared forbidden races, the bastard prince, the innocent heroine (don't be misled by the cover, on which she appears as a warrior woman in a see-through outfit), the protagonists waking slowly to their heroic destinies. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this: there are many authors who employ extremely standard fantasy tropes, and elevate them through exquisite writing (Patricia McKillip), or subtle characterization (Elizabeth Lynn), or stellar world building (David Drake). But Douglass's writing, characters, and setting are as conventionalized as her plot, and occasionally, as in the court scenes and the character of Borneheld and much of the naming, dip dangerously close to cliché. Skillful enough in the telling, this is a story that never rises to originality.

There's another sense in which The Wayfarer Redemption follows epic conventions: it's very long. Published as two linked trilogies and a stand-alone in Australia, it will appear in the US as a single series of seven books. The next installment, Enchanter, is due in October 2001.

Copyright © 2001 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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