I first heard about these books on The Literary Omnivore’s blog, and they sounded really interesting – interesting enough for me to buy both, sight unseen, from Amazon. Carey is perhaps better known for her fantasy novels set in Terre D’Ange, Kushiel’s Dart and its sequels (though I’ve only read Kushiel’s Dart of these books), but these two books take a different world, that of Urulat, whose creation and early history shares remarkable similarity with that of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth as told in The Silmarillion. Carey sets out in both books to deconstruct the world, and more specifically, to show both sides of the war equally – which is certainly something Tolkien doesn’t do. I found that I couldn’t write about these two novels separately, since the one follows so closely on the heels of the other – they don’t feel like two halves of one book, however – and I don’t think one could read Godslayer without having first read Banewreaker.
Banewreaker begins with a short prologue, giving us a brief history of Uru-Alat, created by the Seven Shapers, the eldest of which, Haomane, feels he knows the whole of Uru’s plan for his creation. The other Shapers fashioned stars, mountains, seas and so on, and various races – their Children – to whom they gave various Gifts. Haomane’s children are the Ellylon (Elf analogues), Arahila’s are Men, Yrinna’s are Dwarfs, Neheris’ are the Fjelltroll (orc or troll analogues) and Oronin’s are the Were (wolf analogues). Satoris Thirdborn’s gift was the gift of desire, which he gave willingly to all his brethren’s children when asked, except the Ellylon, for whom Haomane declined the gift.
Bad blood arose between Men and the Ellylon, leading to wars and bloodshed, so that Haomane asked Satoris to withdraw his gift from Men – so that they would not desire the gifts of the Ellylon, immortal and beautiful – and Satoris refused. Displeased, Haomane began the Shapers’ War, leading to the Sundering of Uru-Alat into the island of Torath, where six of the Shapers dwelled, and the land of Urulat, where Satoris was exiled, injured and Giftless. War returned periodically to Urulat, fomented by rumours began by Haomane, so that Satoris was forced to defend himself in alliance with Fjelltroll and Were.
At the start of Banewreaker, a new attempt is being made to overthrow Satoris by the fulfilling of a prophecy made by Haomane some thousand years previously. Cerelinde, Lady of the Ellylon, has agreed to marry Aracus Altorus; their marriage would fulfil one of the parts of the prophecy. Satoris and his Three lieutenants, Tanaros Blacksword, Vorax the Glutton and Ushahin Dreamspinner, determine that kidnapping Cerelinde will avert complete fulfilment of the prophecy, and so they undertake this. A false trail is set, leading Aracus and the Ellylon to Beshtanag, on the other side of Urulat, where the Sorceress of the East lives along with the dragon Calandor, from whom she has learned much wisdom. Lilias, understanding much of what must happen, gives aid to Satoris, and gives artistic verisimilitude to the story even to resisting the siege on Beshtanag made by Haomane’s Allies.
Also part of the prophecy are Dani of the Yarru people, Bearer of the Water of Life, and his uncle Thulu, and the struggles they have to reach Darkhaven, Satoris’ stronghold, where Dani has been asked to put out the marrow-fire in which Godslayer, the dagger which is the only weapon able to kill Satoris, lies.
Carey sets up the story beautifully in the first novel, ending it in the aftermath of the siege on Beshtanag, and the seeming death of Haomane’s Counselor, Malthus (our Gandalf analogue), with Godslayer focussing on the Allies making their way to Darkhaven where they have discovered Cerelinde is being held, and the Bearer travelling there for his quest. Both novels move easily from viewpoint to viewpoint, showing us the thoughts and feelings of Satoris’s Three, Cerelinde in captivity, the sorceress Lilias, Dani, and many others. Lilias’ grief, for example, is deftly shown, as well as her despair that no-one seems to listen to what she says. Betrayal is also shown to have two sides, depending on which side you happen to be on – have you seen the error of your ways, renouncing a treaty with evil and going over to the side of good? or are you betraying a long alliance and plotting to kill your former friends?
Throughout both books, Satoris is consistently shown to be more reasonable than Haomane, but it is he who is always blamed for conflict and Sundering.
Unseen rafters rattled at the Shaper’s raised voice. Cerelinde winced, and laced her hands together. The light of the marrow-fire cast her raised knuckles in sharp shadow. “Does His Lordship hold me to blame?”
There was a sigh then.
It came from every corner of the room, and it came from him; him. and he was before her, then, stooping as a thundercloud might stoop, humbling himself in front of her. The swell of his shoulders blotted out the marrow-fire. His eyes, crimson as Godslayer’s beating heart. “No, Cerelinde. I do not blame the blameless. That is my Elder Brother’s job.”
Carey presents Tanaros, for example, as eminently reasonable in his allegiance to Satoris, yet Haomane’s allies see only his past reputation, failing to recognise or understand his new and real loyalty.
Most of Carey’s characters are very well-developed, particularly those allied with Satoris, and their motivations and loyalties are clearly presented and realistic. Cerelinde does develop doubts as to the truth of Haomane’s pronouncements over the time of her captivity, though, and Carfax, one of Vorax’s men, captured by Malthus and his Company, finds himself coming to comradeship with his captors, and struggles with his own changing feelings towards the war. The reader is afforded a good deal less insight into the self-proclaimed good guys, such as Aracus Altorus or Malthus, compared to Tanaros or Ushahin or Lilias, though they show their contempt for Satoris’s loyal allies, and can’t conceive why anyone would want to fight against Haomane’s Allies.
The ending, which I shan’t spoil here, is tragic but right, and I do like the chain of inevitability which leads to its conclusion, though the theme of choice runs through Godslayer, in particular. There’s a possibility of a different ending to the one that Haomane’s Allies envisage, one which the dragons have seen, and which gives hope to the reader that sacrifices were not made in vain.
All in all, these are two very well written works of high fantasy, ably deconstructing Tolkien’s world and mythos, giving tragic depth and sympathy to the enemy seen as evil. I really enjoyed these books and recommend them highly.