Having enjoyed Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra (and yes, in the short time since writing that review I’ve read the remaining four books in the series, and enjoyed them), I decided to try one of her other books. She’s got several series, so I picked one somewhat arbitrarily and ended with Into the Dark Lands, which turns out to be her first novel. And the bottom line is that it held my attention, but I’m not at all sure I’ll read the remaining three books of this particular series, as it didn’t quite work for me.
If it’s a failure, though, it’s an interesting failure. Sagara sets up a fantasy world based on a kind of Zoroastrian dualism: there’s a light god and a dark god, who have been warring since time began. Eventually each had children, the “Sundered”, who can appear human but are not, and who have great magical power; and later still the world as we know it was created, along with human beings who are unsurprisingly a blend of the light and the dark. The Sundered interbred with the humans, and the war continued, and as this book begins it is fought largely by the half-human descendents of the Sundered on either side. These half-human descendants are bred and trained for this war.
One of the Sundered of Light, the Lady of Elliath, has spent five years in a trance walking all of the paths of the future, looking for a way to end the war. There is one, and only one, and she doesn’t like it. And so begin the trials of her grand-daughter, Erin of Elliath, who (as the title implies) must be captured by the Servants of Darkness. The first part of the novel covers the time up to her capture, which is telegraphed so strongly that I don’t regard mentioning it as a spoiler; and the second part her time in the Dark Lands, as the guest of Stefanos, the First of the Sundered of Darkness.
And then what we have is a beauty and the beast story that I simply couldn’t begin to take seriously, alas. It doesn’t end well, I’ll give Sagara credit for that, but I found it unbelievable.
On top of that, I don’t find dualist Zoroastrian worlds credible for philosophical reasons; followers of the Dark God in such a system are pursuing darkness, ugliness, bloodshed, and so forth for their own sake, and that simply doesn’t work. Sagara has problems with it, too: Stefanos is the eldest child of the Dark God, most devoted to the Dark God’s purposes, and yet his number one goal is to build an empire that will last. I don’t think an essentially evil being would wish to be constructive.
Of course, there are three books remaining; and there’s probably going to be some foofaraw in the end about how the Dark is not strictly Evil; that there’s Good in the Dark and Evil in the light, and only a mixture of the two is viable. And yet given how evil the servants of the Dark are portrayed as being in this first book, I can’t really buy that, even as a plot point.
So…disappointing, and not particularly fun, but interesting. Some books, you put them down, and you enjoyed them, but you don’t think about them. Others, you do.