Author: Jacqueline Carey
Title: Banewreaker (Book 1)
Series: The Sundering
Publisher: Thor fantasy (2004)
Go to Amazon page
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If all that is good thinks you evil... are you?
Once upon a time, the Seven Shapers dwelled in accord and Shaped the world to their will. But Satoris, the youngest among them, was deemed too generous in his gifts to the race of Men, and so began the Shapers' War, which Sundered the world. Now six of the Shapers lay to one end of a vast ocean, and Satoris to the other, reviled by even the race of Men.
Satoris sits in his Darkhaven, surrounded by his allies. Chief among them is Tanaros Blacksword, immortal Commander General of his army. Once a mortal man who was betrayed by King and Wife, Tanaros fled to Darkhaven a thousand years ago, and in Satoris's service has redeemed his honor-but left his humanity behind.
Now there is a new prophecy that tells of Satoris's destruction and the redemption of the world. To thwart it, Satoris sends Tanaros to capture the Lady of the Ellylon, the beautiful Cerelinde, to prevent her alliance with the last High King of Men.
But Tanaros discovers that not all of his heart has been lost--his feelings for Cerelinde could doom Satoris, but save the race of Men...
Some books hook you from the very first sentence. Other books fail to capture you at all.
And then, there are books like Banewreaker: tales what will coax you subtly, irrevocably, word by word, without you realizing it, until you cannot stop poring over its pages.
I started reading this series because I found an interesting comment by George R.R. Martin in his own website: he said that it was a good read, that it told the story of the Lord of the Rings from the point of view of Sauron's minions. Both the source and the recommendation were enough to make me grab my own copy, but it turned out that things were, as they are wont to be, much more complex. A retelling of the Lord or the Rings? No: so much more.
Banewreaker's first lines are not very easy to read. The first chapter might be slow, as Carey explains with her flowery, descriptive prose the intricacies of the world's origin, of its deities, its inhabitants, its myth and lore. Perhaps the reader will find trouble remembering the names, or recognizing what the names refer to. But, as pages start to flow with increasing speed, it is obvious that these seeming faults are, in truth, great strengths.
The prose has a cadence, a rhythm to it, that will immediately evoke a powerful epic in the reader's mind: the reading does not pick up because of a change in the writer's style, but because the reader understands the pace and dances along with it.
Descriptions abound, but are never overused: I could feel every nuance of atmosphere in this book and did not feel the need to skip a paragraph once. Races, places, items are mentioned, and the reader is supplied with enough information to know “what” the author refers to without having their imagination limited in any way when it is unimportant to the plot. This helps to create a feeling of realism and continuity as well: if the fantastic things Carey is writing about (such as “rhyos”, for example) are not painstakingly detailed, the reader is left with the impression that the item is common, real, part of their life, and thus does not require further presentation.
Every character, from the Shapers and the ancient dragons to the lords to the soldiers, is a piece that fits perfectly in the tapestry that is Banewreaker. They all have motivations to be where they are, to do what they do. They know hate and duty and passion. They might seem bitter at times, or haunted by their past, but that is because such is the nature of man: yes, Lord Ushahin has never forgiven those who tried to kill him with stones and sticks when he was but a child because of his mixed heritage. But, can we honestly ask him to forgive and forget? Satoris feels the hatred of his older brother, and becomes more and more bitter, but, can we ask anything else, when he has been turned into the paradigm of evil because he did what he had to to protect life as it was? The villains of this tale are, indeed, the heroes from the other side, and it doesn't take long before we can empathize with their trials and their plight.
Surprisingly enough, the alliance of elves and men and charred ones who set out to stop Satoris, those who would bring destruction to the characters we have come to love following blindly after a prophecy, are not hateful. While I personally hoped with all my might that they would not succeed, I found their dedication well placed, their hopes reasonable, their mercy real. They are characters just as fascinating as the heroes, who have placed their beliefs in Satoris' enemy and who follow him to the end, no matter how bloody it might be, how much they suffer.
And all these heroes and villains clash in a riveting storyline wherein Satoris attempts to prevent the prophecy of his destruction to come to fruition: the words have always been there, but now that his enemies are on the move, he decides to strike first and capture one of the integral parties: the Lady Celerinde, whose wedding to the descendant of a particular House of men would signal the beginning of the end. But was this move to stop the prophecy, or to follow it through? Satoris is not the evil he's been made to look like, but will Celerinde understand this in time to make a difference?
Because all things are as they must be, and the darkness of Darkhaven shines bright even as the alliance of his rival brings the shadows to its doorstep.
One final word of personal opinion: Banewreaker is a must-read. It is a renovation of the fantasy genre, with choices and shades of gray. It is also a deep work that will make the reader think, not only about Satoris and his fight, but about the very nature of conflict, of good, of evil.