by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, fantasy (2003)
Voyager, £12.99, ISBN 0-00-224751-8
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's fantasy series are infamous for more often than not uninspiring conclusions. Of their long career, I can only name three series where the trilogy ends at a truly high and triumphant note: Rose Of The Prophet (my all-time favorite by them), the Chronicles, and of course, Legends. The Death Gate Cycle, a good series despite its flaws (any series that give the magnificent gems Dragon Wing, Fire Sea, and Serpent Mage cannot be all wrong), ends at a discordantly predictable low note and don't get me started on the Darksword trilogy that goes from magnificent to oh-my-God-I-want-my-wasted-time-back.
The Sovereign Stone Trilogy will not be joining the ranks of Rose Of The Prophet, I'm afraid. The long-awaited last book of the trilogy is as always readable and gripping at places, but by Journey Into The Void, the trilogy has undergone a complete 180 to become a hopelessly conventional fantasy story. In this book, Dagnarus, our villain, has metamorphosized from a gripping villain the author spent a whole book building into a one-note inept villain. Gone is the complexities of the characters of Dagnarus, Gareth, and Valura, and all three are reduced into mere shades (in Gareth's case, literally) of their former antiheroic selves. While Journey Into The Void is a midtier Weis and Hickman offering if it is a standalone novel, the fact that it is completely antithesis to this trilogy's raison d'etre (to tell a story from the villain's point of view) does not sit well with me at all.
Where we last left Guardians Of The Lost, the bestial otherworldly taans, led by Dagnarus, are poised to overrun the human lands. Basae, Jessan, and the Grandmother are in danger and it is up to the Simkin-wannabe Baron Shadamehr to save them. Stuck is the middle are the elven couple Damra and Griffith. Raven, Bashae's uncle, is a prisoner-of-war among the taans and is caught in the enmity between Dagnarus and the rebel Vrykyl K'let. The dwarf Wolfram and his companion Ranessa has found Dragon Mountain and an unexpected discovery to Ranessa's heritage.
Now, Dagnarus mows over New Vinneagal even as our heroes race desperately to find all four pieces of the broken Sovereign Stone that will destroy Dagnarus' evil powers that keep him alive to plague the world for more than two centuries. Dagnarus awaits, of course, searching for the four pieces himself. The story comes to a full circle when everyone gives each other the finger in the Portal of Gods, right where the whole trouble begins and now ends.
The biggest problem of this story is the shift of focus from Dagnarus to the lesser creatures that want to stop him. These characters are introduced only in book two, and unlike Dagnarus that has an entire book to build his character up, these characters are so underwritten that they are not interesting. Shadamehr has too much deus-ex-machina plot devices in his character and background, Raven's adventures in bad Conan the Barbarian land is excruciatingly bad that I thought these authors are doing a bad Robert Jordan parody, and Damra and Griffith are nonentities here. Everyone is running all over the place but not one character comes alive to capture my imagination the way Dagnarus, Gareth, Helmnos, and Valura did in the first book Well Of Darkness.
And for what, I wonder? The Void, so beautifully menacing in book one, is now a one-dimensional Force of Evil here that I am surprised that Dagnarus doesn't start cackling like some caricature baddie. Everything the authors built from Well Of Darkness is capsized for a trite and conventional Good Wins Evil story - a far cry from what book one promises me that the trilogy will be. I can't help but to wonder how different this book could have been if the authors stuck to their guts and let Dagnarus wins and corrupts the world entirely. Won't that be glorious? Dagnarus could have been the man I am waiting for to challenge glorious Raistlin in his throne as the best antihero these authors have created so far, but this trilogy does him no justice at all.
It is very easy to get caught up in the thrill of the battle scenes. One can accuse the authors of hackneyed philosophizing of the most lowbrow kind - rightfully so, I concur - but when they plunge their characters into frenzied battle, I cannot help but to be swept along for the ride. Nonetheless, when the dust settles, I still don't care about the nondescript heroes and heroines. I don't even know them. The one I know the most about, Dagnarus, is defeated in a shockingly anticlimatic manner, along with what little remains of the grand potentials that the rest like Gareth and Valura could have brought to this trilogy. It could have been grand, it could have been radical if evil triumphs over good, but in the end, the authors instead choose to systematically destroy all that's good about their story for the sake of conventional fantasy formulaics.
Words cannot express how cheated I feel. Indeed, Journey Into The Void is one of the worst conclusions to these authors' fantasy series. It is only better than that atrocious and unnecessary Legacy Of The Darksword, and that's not saying much, is it?
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