REVIEW SUMMARY: Engrossing fantasy fueled with high imagination and memorable action sequences.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A battle of good and evil at castle Everness, the doorway between the real world and the magical dream world.
PROS: Intriguing ideas; quick pacing; cool action scenes.
CONS: Not being a huge fan of fantasy, the “magical” parts were less interesting.
BOTTOM LINE: Although I’m not a fantasy fan, I still found the book to enjoyable. People who like high fantasy would do well to seek out this book.
Right now, you’re in the world of wakefulness and what you see can be explained by the laws of physics. But there is another world, the world of dreaming, where magic is the prevailing force of nature. There are both good and evil forces in the land of dreams and the evil forces want to rule both lands (selfish weasels). To do so, they must cross the bridge into the real world. That bridge is the castle of Everness, guarded for centuries by a family of devoted believers in the powers of magic. Galen Waylock is the next in line to undertake this task. When Galen hears the warning bell toll in his dreams, he knows that the forces of evil are preparing to strike. But the true guardian of Everness, Galen’s grandfather Lemuel, is wary of false alarms. Eager to prove himself worthy of the task of guardian, Galen enters the land of dreaming to seek the assistance of his ancestor Azrael, the first-ever guardian. Meanwhile, back in the real world, husband and wife Raven (that’s Raven, son of Raven) and Wendy (a dream-world fairy with little recollection of her past) stumble upon the impending threat and do their best to assist Galen. Raven and Wendy enlist the help of Peter, Galen’s paraplegic father who, in his childhood, dismissed Lemuel’s teachings of the ways of magic as falsehood.
The Last Guardian of Everness by John C. Wright is the first in a new high fantasy series called The War of the Dreaming. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the fantasy genre (more on that in a moment), I was eager to read the next piece of work by an author whose science fiction work I found to be top-notch. This is Wright’s first fantasy novel.
The story moves along at a fairly quick pace from the opening sequence in which Galen dreams of the warning. The storyline is engrossing not only for its good vs. evil tension, but because of the history of Everness and the family that guards it. You really get the sense that Everness and the land of dreaming are magical places. And this is the perfect springboard for Wright, who proved his imaginative skills with The Golden Age trilogy, to strut his stuff. The author one-ups the trite elf/dwarf/dragon motif with strange and interesting creatures ranging from giant snow beasts to man-eating, human-skin-wearing seals.
Wright’s excellent science fiction novels to date have mostly been intense, logical reasoning with very few action sequences; The Last Guardian of Everness is like the flip side. Being the land of magic, logic goes out the window leaving room for many magic-filled action sequences. The battle scenes in particular contained some memorable moments. And Wright sprinkles in some humor as well. For example, there are a series of amusing sequences involving Azrael’s spirit inhabiting the body of a modern character. He tries to correlate such modern marvels like a car and telephone to the world he knows. Thus the phone is “possessed” when the “please hang up and try again” recording is heard. You can tell the author was having fun. And throughout the whole book, Wright’s writing style is clear, descriptive, engrossing and sometimes lyrical. If you pay attention, you’ll even find numerous character lines that rhyme, which happens too often to be accidental and lends to the magical ambiance.
The real and dream worlds depicted in the story are seen through the eyes of the book’s well-written characters. Galen, acting on wounded pride, sets out on a task for which he is not-quite prepared. Lemuel has yet to teach him all the secrets of guardianship, like, say, where the key between worlds is, or even what the key is for that matter. Raven is the strong but sensitive foreigner type with undying love for his darling, impish wife. Raven is the real hero of the story and is faced with a difficult decision at the cliffhanger ending. Wendy’s meanderings about being able to fly in her youth are taken as a slight case of mental illness, landing her in the hospital. Wendy herself is a perky and carefree being who is in such a constant state of bliss that even the most horrible of creatures evokes no more than a passing notice. Wheelchair-bound Peter is desperate to make amends with his son Galen when he revives from his coma, the state his body is left in while he visits the dream world.
My only misgivings about the book stem from my personal impressions of the fantasy genre of fiction. With science fiction, I know where I am. Current technology and ideas are extrapolated to some extreme example, usually in a believable fashion. But with fantasy, particularly high fantasy, it seems like there are no rules. Characters can do seemingly inexplicable things that are supposed to be summarily accepted by virtue of it being labeled “magic”. Thus, I have a hard time suspending disbelief and I feel like I am a witness instead of being immersed. As an example from Everness, a magic spell is successful if the character is quick enough to utter an incantation at exactly the right moment, the mystical equivalent of yelling “shotgun” to claim the front seat of a car. An incantation for causing someone to sleep might be as simplistic as using calling the name “Morpheus” and the name of the target victims. Isn’t this too easy? Shouldn’t some secret, hard-to-come-by ingredients be involved? Aren’t mischievous, punk kids getting wind of this and playing practical jokes on their parents? Bah! As a result, I enjoyed the real-world sequences more than the dream world sequences. Except for maybe the Galen/Azrael sequence at the edge of the world where Azrael is trapped in a torture cage hanging from a cliff?that was just too cool.
The fact that I did enjoy it given my wary attitude towards fantasy makes the book that much more successful in my eyes. The Last Guardian of Everness was a fun read for me, it would be even more so for fantasy fans. I look forward to the next novel in the series, The Mists of Everness.