Sprawling first installment of a promised quartet involving the usual elements of swords and sorcery but with surprising and pleasing twists.
New Zealand–based YA author Hair spends a great deal of time here worldbuilding, and the fantastic geography that he conjures is both captivating and improbable. Not least of its disbelief-suspending features is a bridge that rises from the depths of the sea every dozen years, allowing the power- and wealth-seeking Magi to mount crusades in the land across the water. Naturally, the residents of that land don’t cotton to the incursions. Neither does every resident of the invading power, whose political complexities are both Byzantine and Mandarin. The Moontide Bridge that adjoins Yuros and Antiopia, some reckon, is the chief cause of their world’s miseries. In its sometimes-pedantic explorations of the racial, class and religious differences that separate the two continents, Hair’s novel swerves into J. K. Rowling territory, while in its mystical geography and anthropology, it often recalls Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. By comparison with these two models, Hair often lays on the fantasy-speak a little thickly: “Most of us have greater aptitude at one or more of the four Classes of the gnosis....My element is fire and I am strongest in Thaumaturgy and hermetic-gnosis.” Yet, as the novel unfolds and Hair charts both its physical features and its actors, bearing such resonant names as Antonin Meiros, Belonius Vult, Gurvon Gyle, Ramita Ankesharan and Cymbellea di Regia, it gathers both speed and force. Hair is adept at building characters as well as worlds, and his attention to his female players is welcome in a genre that too often excludes them. The tangles of place names and walk-ons require concentration on the reader’s part, but in the end, the story is satisfying enough to make the effort worthwhile.
Among the payoffs are plenty of cliffhangers, including one that nicely ushers in the next volume—which fans will await eagerly.