Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review of The Godless World trilogy by Brian Ruckley

Tragedy in the theater sense of the word, Ruckley’s Godless World trilogy is a supple blending of epic fantasy and The Iliad.  Set in an imaginary land highly reminiscent of the author's native Scotland, the trilogy offers oily smooth prose, well developed characters with human interests, and a solemn sense of drama.  There are no quests for jade bracelets or scepters that will buy a kingdom.  There are no wizards with lightning shooting from their fingertips.  There are no demons leaping from the bushes in ambush.  This is a human story of war akin to historical fiction, the fantasy blunted to let character interaction and emotion shine through, and for that, Ruckley should be lauded.

Winter is settling in as the story begins and the stark aura it casts over the lords, their ancient feuds, and the fight for survival that ensues remains throughout the series, the snow thickening.  Obviously conscious of the sword and sorcery genre and its variety of pitfalls, Ruckley focuses the narrative on the characters and their personal struggles in a world at war – and all are human, not an undefeatable hero among them.   Elements of fantasy do exist and are irreplaceable to the plot, but as a whole the books read like historical fiction; individuals develop and adjust to the inevitable tragedy of war where the quest for power and revenge leads. 

The strongest point of the trilogy is how smoothly events unfold.  Winterbirth effortlessly sets the stage for the play and its actors, the scenes of Bloodheir build the climax, and the shortest of the three, Fall of Thanes, unravels the story to its inevitable and tragic ending, just like The Iliad.  The heart wrench invoked by the denouement is a testament to the sense of theater drama which prevails.  Ruckley's skills at portraying real human emotion are not often found in fantasy and come as a point of recommendation for the series. 

By accurately depicting human virtue and vice, Ruckley will probably not win any readers among the fans of derivative fantasy, Jordan, Goodkind, Brooks, etc.   However, for those who seek fantasy writers with higher literary aims beyond spells and elves, The Godless World trilogy and its sorrows may be for you.  It is Homer-ian in fantasy.

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