07 November, 2012

Review - To Ride Hell's Chasm by Janny Wurts

In the land of the 10 volume monster-epics of fantasy, the stand-alone is a much rarer beast, so many preferring to take a concept and bludgeon it to death. Not that I'm complaining, it's just nice to have a book that you know will run its due course in one, single volume.

To Ride Hell's Chasm [US] [UK] takes what seems to be a simple concept, but combines it with the Wurts-effect to become a much deeper and resonating piece than I ever imagined it could be.

The princess, Anja, of the remote kingdom of Sessalie has disappeared and on the same night as her betrothal banquet. Being such a small kingdom, Sessalie rarely if ever succumbs to the problems of the outside world, and such a disappearance is a more than momentous occasion. 

The king, in his wisdom or possibly oncoming dementia, tasks his household guard commander, Taskin with the responsibility of finding her, but additionally puts the new lower gate captain and foreigner, Mykkael, to oath to find her as well. 

Mykkael, having one the rights to his position in the annual tournament takes on the duty, much to the chagrin of the ruling class who have become comfortable in their ways and supremely prejudiced against outsiders.

What follows is a story about prejudice and trust, overcoming incalculable odds, and what it really means to be loyal. Add sorcery and Mykkael's style of fighting, barqui'ino, that's like Jui-Jitsu's version of the Gun Kata (Equilibrium)...

...and you're in for a real treat. The passion with which Wurts writes is unprecedented in my reading experience. 

Sessalie is a small place, as has been mentioned, and Wurts plays on the inherent biases that such a place will produce. Anything out of the ordinary or different would naturally cause such a sequestered people to feel threatened. At the same time, it is completely unwarranted, you know, the usual when it comes to prejudice. Mykkael is of a much darker skin tone than those in Sessalie and therefore, an immediate prejudice is built up, but what has he done to deserve such treatment? Nothing. 

Without even needing a "bad guy," the odds are already stacked up against Mykkael. 

Every ounce of pain, nobility, love, you name it, is felt as you get to know the characters and see their actions. I have to admit to wondering at the level of detail at points, especially when the characters' interactions were explained to include every minute component of their relationships. But in the end, you find that it was well worth it because you glory in their triumphs as much as suffering their pains.

What I guess is that I'm implying that this book is no walk in the park. It's very dense and probably took me twice as long to read as most other books of its size. But again, it's well worth it, just make sure you're in the right mood.

For a fantasy treat that will stick with you long after you read it and that inhabits the remote and distant country of StandAlone, To Ride Hell's Chasm is one of the best reads I've had all year.

4.5 out of 5 Stars (Very Highly Recommended)

Ps. I always wondered why this book was called "To Ride" Hell's Chasm. I thought, why not just "Hell's Chasm"? Believe me, it deserves the title it already has, it is more fitting than I would ever have guessed in more ways than I would have guessed.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher


Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) said...

I love this novel - maybe my all-time favorite standalone fantasy.

Bryce L. said...

I think I could possibly say the same, it's up there at the least.

Did you get the reference to the Gun Kata? They have really fast reflexes and so do the barqui'ino trained.

Unknown said...

I love Janny's stuff, but have been putting off any of her standalone or earlier works until I get caught up on the Wars of Light & Shadow. After reading this, though, I may just need to allow myself a little standalone taste.

Bryce L. said...

That's what I thought I was going to do, but then there was a reading group on Goodreads that enticed me to start this one.