In Martin’s debut fantasy tale, warring states wage bloody battles in a parallel universe.
Earthlike planet Xahr, populated by pugnacious, medieval-type humans, is rocked by perpetual war between the continental powers of the Banthyk Union and the Kingdom of Sarkrea. The right-thinking residents of Banthyk ride above their swampy homeland on the backs of gigantic lizards called trazlixes. The Sarkreans—bad guys who have shaved heads—use a mineral called convesium to heal their wounds and perform other magical feats. A host of peculiarly named substances, creatures and people course through the book, though Martin helpfully includes a lengthy introduction and frequent asides to explain each strange new word in this strange new world. He’s a little too helpful, in fact, as the pedantic exposition impedes the narrative flow; the map at the beginning of the book and the glossary at the end would have sufficed. The story also trips with writing tics that detract from the author’s clever creations. Too often he indulges in passive verbs and weak constructions—“Determination was evident,” he flatly notes of a wounded fighter’s mindset—and he sprinkles the text with clunky phrasing and words. Even if not always serviceable, the writing seems salvageable. At times, the prose is even pungent and pithy, as with a description of the Banthyk swamps: “A familiar smell of dead and rotting animals and plants permeated the air as the striding lizards plunged through the marsh.” But the plot is overly simplistic and most of the cast are more like video game caricatures than real-life characters. Although the feuding warriors engage in plenty of action-packed battles—often dispatching one another in creatively gory ways—too few well-developed personalities emerge from the carnage, and the leading heroes and villains come across as wooden. Many of the pages given over to exposition would be more valuable if devoted to further developing the sketchy characters and plot.
Intriguing storylines, creatures and weapons, but the human component is lacking.