From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Book Review: Fall of Thanes by Brian Ruckley

Chaos fills the world as the followers of the severe Black Road creed have overwhelmed the Glas Valley and threaten Kolkry and Vaymouth, the political strongholds of the True Bloods. The mad rage of Aeglyss the na’kyrim, once the tool of the invaders, has now taken over the hosts of the Black Road and threatens to engulf everyone. Can Kanin, a thane of the Black Road Bloods, find a way to stop the half-blood Aeglyss, whom he helped unleash and who cost him the life of his sister? Can Orisian, thane of a blood that no longer exists, do what is necessary to restore order to the world?

Fall of Thanes is the final volume in Brian Ruckley’s Godless World trilogy, following Winterbirth and Bloodheir. Ruckley’s world is a fairly typical fantasy world, though with some very dark twists. In the age previous to which the story unfolds, the Huanin (humans) and Kyrinin (elf-equivalents) made war on and destroyed the vicious Whreinin (wolf-men, it seems) race. Thanks to the brutality of the two victorious “tainted” races, the gods got fed up with the whole mess and left their mortal creations to their own devices. Thus, a godless world.

Magic is nearly non-existent in this world, limited to the products of a union of Huanin and Kyrinin, the na’kyrim. The na’kyrim are sometimes able to use the Shared, the force of life that connects all things, to heal, to sense future events, to destroy. In the absence of the gods, some power-hungry na’kyrim attempted to seize control of the world, and even succeeded for a time. As a result, in the present of the trilogy, the na’kyrim are hated and feared almost universally.

Ruckley’s world is very richly portrayed. While Aeglyss is a villain, he is not painted with broad strokes. Given his abandonment and the fear and hatred others have of him, his actions have an emotional logic to them, though I never quite felt sympathy for him as a character. Kanin is a much more tragic figure, a flawed young man whose belief system is shaken to the very core, until he comes to the conviction that he must do what he thinks is right, no matter the personal cost.

In Fall of Thanes we finally see Orisian come of age, stepping into a role that he neither wanted nor felt ready for. By the end of the novel, he is no longer carried by the events around him but he becomes a true shaper of those events. Not that he can do much in his situation, but he chooses to do what he can.

Though there is a summary of the first two volumes at the beginning of Fall of Thanes, the story cannot be understood without having read Winterbirth and Bloodheir. Ruckley has a very rich style. The reader is drawn into the world that he creates, but it is not light reading. It took me a while to get used to the pacing and the format of the long chapters. I even had to set the book aside for a few days and read lighter fare. But I was compelled to read to the very end.

I wonder if it is something about the genre of epic fantasy, or if it is something in the age we now find ourselves where more and more of the stories I read deal with the end of an era in a world where the gods are distant or absent. There were times in reading Ruckley’s trilogy where I was tempted to read it as a parable, a story how both Christian fundamentalism (or any religious fundamentalism) and modern agnostic pragmatism are both woefully unprepared for the slope towards chaos and insanity we find ourselves sliding down.

Or I may be reading far too much into Ruckley’s story.

All in all, Brian Ruckley has a deft hand in telling the story that he wants to tell. The major questions are answered, and the plots and subplots are all resolved, if not how we may necessarily like them. We are entertained, and perhaps given a little food for thought. Not a bad result for 1,500 trade paperback pages. I look forward to seeing what Ruckley will produce next.

Fall of Thanes
Brian Ruckley
Orbit, 2009
ISBN 978-0-316-06771-3

Donald Jacob Uitvlugt lives in Central Arkansas with his wife and dog. His short fiction has appeared in a number of print and online venues.

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