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Ossus Library Index Fantasy Index

DOOM OF THE DARKSWORD

A novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (1988, Bantam Spectra)
Book 2 of the Darksword Trilogy

The Darksword travels to Merilon as Joram seeks his heritage.

 

 

4 stars

Read April 12th to 18th, 2002 for the second time  
    A superb continuation of this magical world. Without the necessity of setting up the way the world works, the characters were able to develop completely. And if I didn't know that there was a third novel in this series (and actually a fourth!), it could be called a very satisfying conclusion.

As much as the first book in a trilogy must struggle with creating the world we will be living in for three books, and defining the characters, the second book has a lot more freedom. Normally, however, it is open-ended, as it builds towards the third book. This one definitely takes all its freedom and runs with it, creating an action-packed, politically charged love story. It switches gears through the three sections, but never in a way that gives whip-lash. And, perhaps best of all, it has a real conclusion. As I said above, if it wasn't for the Prophecy, and Simkin's comment at the end, this could have been a tragic and very satisfying conclusion. It really makes me wonder what happens next! I suppose the prophecy gives a hint...

This book picks up right at the moment when the last one ends. Saryon is waiting for Joram to return from delivering the dead warlock Blachloch into the forest. In that time, he is contacted by Bishop Vanya, who confirms my guess that Blachloch was indeed his spy! It's a little unfortunate that this is revealed so early in the book, but I suppose it makes sense, and it doesn't have a real impact on the rest of the story, anyway. Saryon discovers that the darkstone can keep Vanya from contacting him, and thus takes another step into darkness.

The fall of Saryon is the most interesting part of this book. He loses his faith in the Almin after everything he's seen. He has lost his faith in Vanya because the Bishop lied to him, even though he must know that the Bishop can see the larger picture. But he doesn't care -he is interested in the individual person, and doesn't believe in sacrificing the individual for the good of the masses. Of course, it would help if the masses were worth it. Saryon has lived in Merilon, and later, we get to go there, too. And from what we see, through the eyes of Saryon and Mosiah, these people are living in willful ignorance, and have never even given thought to those who work for them, bringing them food and stuff. But I suppose that is the definition of a feudal society.

Saryon keeps the secret of Joram's true identity, Prince of Merilon, and it nearly kills him, like a poison to the brain. He can't bear to reveal the truth to Joram, because the young man is so intent on gaining his fortune. If he found out, he would have gone after the power much more fiercely, and because he has no magic, he would have easily been killed. But first, he would have destroyed Merilon's society, and perhaps that of all Thimhallan, with his revelation. What Saryon doesn't know is that Thimhallan can't afford to kill Joram, because the prophecy states that he will die, then come back to life and destroy the world.

To me, the prophecy sounds like it is unfinished, as if there was something more that should have been said, to complete it. I believe that the prophecy intended to name Joram as its potential savior, or the one who has the power to keep the destruction from happening. That is the problem with prophecies, as is mentioned over and over in the Sword of Truth series. They cannot be interpreted properly until after they have come to pass. Trying to avoid the prophecy often makes it come about. If Vanya had simply allowed the child to die, the prophecy could not have come about, because he could not have walked through the mists and brought back whatever lies on the other side (that much I remember from ten years ago, when I last read this series).

So it is nice to finally see Saryon take a stand. After seeing him so spineless and always second-guessing his decisions in Forging the Darksword, I am very happy to see him developing a code of honor himself. Even though he might be wrong in his reasons for disobeying Vanya, he has at least made a decision. It is only when he hears the prophecy that he realizes how he was mistaken.

The other character who has grown on me, really grown, is Simkin. From the first moment we see him again, helping Joram making Blachloch's death seem realistic, he was absolutely hilarious. My favorite lines from him were when he was describing the fun he had dancing around like a centaur! And they way he considered killing himself and leaving his centaur body at the scene to make it seem more realistic left me laughing so hard! He has a line for everything, and goes off on the funniest tangents. I actually looked forward to meeting him again in this book.

But the best part about Simkin was the serious side he portrayed every once in a while, every time things seemed to get out of his control. And I wonder how much control he has. He exhibits even more power now than he did in the last book. That the rules of Thimhallan don't apply to him is even more apparent. He can change shape at will, into anything, without even a catalyst to give him Life. In fact, I don't think he needs a catalyst. I wonder if he is the embodiment of all types of wizards, and can grant himself Life. He can even run around the Corridors at will, without having the Corridor Masters catch him, and doesn't need a catalyst to open them for him. "Details," he says, waving his hand in dismissal. I wonder. I was under the impression that only catalysts could open corridors, but this might not be true, as the enforcers do it often enough throughout the book.

But when he is leading the group of refugees (Saryon, Joram and Mosiah) to Merilon (the wrong way), and he encounters the sunny glade in the middle of the forest, he gets nervous. His warning to Joram not to look at the (dead) Empress was extremely serious, and I wonder exactly why. I thought perhaps Joram would recognize his heritage, and that Simkin already knew of it but never let on. There are several times when Simkin gets deadly serious, or very nervous. He has plans for Joram, and I don't know what they are, but he fears being discovered.

But it seems that at least some of his claims about Merilon are true. Aside from being arrested when he enters the city, he does in fact seem to know everyone, and he even calls the Emperor "Binky"! But he avoids capture by turning himself into a tulip and posing in a bouquet.

In that mysterious glade, we meet the Prince of Sharakan, Garald. This serves two purposes, the first being to introduce us to the enemy that we heard about in Forging the Darksword (and will presumably fight against in the next book), and second, to give Joram some much needed lessons in chivalry. I adored Garald! He was such a strong, charismatic character! Even though he is manipulating Joram and talking of going to war, he is extremely passionate, and the scenes where he confronts Joram are so well written, so powerful, that he is a joy to read about every time that he appears. Although the Prince tries to teach Joram the real way of the world, the honorable way (the way that Merilon has forgotten), through dialog, it is interspersed with the things that the two of them are doing, thinking, and observing. Joram glances around and takes in the forest, or observes the differences between Garald's sword and his, for instance, during a pause. This is what makes the story so good, makes it so much more effective than something like Robots of Dawn (for a recent example), which is terrific dialog, but not much more.

The authors do tend to get carried away at some points when they are trying to give the back-story in narrative terms, however. Instead of giving the history as a character remembering it, they take a small detour and remind us of what happened, which is distracting when I've just finished the previous book! The better way to do it was as Saryon gave Joram's tale to Garald. It was very effective that way, and not distracting in the slightest. We also get the opinions of the person speaking, which colors the description of events a little, making it less bland.

Speaking of Garald, it seems that Sharakan has been involved in the Dark Arts of Technology for a long time, since he is so well trained, and has mastered a forgotten art that even the Technologists could not duplicate. I wonder that Sharakan has not given refuge to these people already.

I am thankful that we are spared the trek across Thimhallan from Garald's camp to Merilon in the text. The journey was, I'm sure, a long one, and presumably uneventful. I am sure that Simkin took them the long way around because he expected to run into Garald along the way, though why he was so upset upon finding the glade is a mystery. I also wonder why he wanted Joram trained in sword fighting, assuming that was his reasoning.

Once we get into Merilon, things progress rather quickly, though slow enough for love to blossom. The authors seem to enjoy innocent characters who turn into heroes. From Saryon and Mosiah to Gwendolyn, these once-naive characters become very strong and do things that would have been unheard of when we first met them. Gwendolyn takes advice from Simkin (in the shape of a tulip), and leads the group to her home, instead of having them ejected from the city. She and Joram fall instantly in love, which is apparent to everyone in the vicinity. Joram can still do tricks to make it look like he has magic, and has fooled everyone. Until the very end, Lord Samuels and Gwendolyn don't even know that Joram is Dead.

Through Samuels' house, we learn about the life of Merilon, but mostly, we watch the love grow, and we see Joram change. Because of his talk with Garald, he has the first seeds of civility in him. But it will take more than the love of a beautiful woman to make it grow, even though he indicates that he has changed. We see that, when he learns that his mother Anja gave birth to a stillborn child, and simply stole Joram from the nursery. So he thinks he is a nobody, and he turns back into his old self again until he is captured. But still, things have changed in him, and maybe he'll become honorable in the end, anyway. Because Gwendolyn stays with him even after she learns about this truth, and her love seems to be keeping him in control.

The party of the Emperor and Empress is hilarious to watch, mostly because we see it through the eyes of Joram as he is led around by Simkin. Joram expects to meet the woman who helped birth him, and is very excited. Gwendolyn's father has forbidden her to see Joram until the matter of his heritage is brought to a close, so he is especially excited to get it over with. Surprisingly, the authors do a good job of making him seem reasonable as he actually accepts (for the most part) the decree that he stay away from her.

We get to see the other side of Merilon through the eyes of Mosiah, also very effectively. He is in complete awe of the splendors of the city, until he sees the truth behind it all, their intentional blindness, and the insults and giggles behind his back because he is so obviously uneducated. Joram teaches him to read, so he spends much time in Lord Samuels' library. When Simkin takes him to Merlyn's Grove, where he sees the tomb of the magus who led the people to Thimhallan, he is treated almost like a zoo animal, especially by Simkin. Simkin makes it seem like a matter of life and death, but I think he simply enjoys the show more, no matter what the cost. As he said, if things got boring, he would have certainly turned them in himself.

I have always loved the magic of this world. Inspired by Mosiah, who paints an image of what it is like to live as a Field Catalyst in the air, I have always wanted to be able to draw my ideas on thin air, in order to help articulate myself! Or to change clothes like Simkin, if it suddenly gets too hot, cold, or wet. But Mosiah generates a tragic portrait of his life, which of course sends the enforcers his way, because they are on the lookout for a Field Catalyst so they can catch Joram. This leads to another great Simkin set: the illusion of a thousand Mosiahs! He turns everybody into Mosiah! This way, through appearances alone, the enforcers can't identify him! It is hilarious, and sets us up for more escapes later on, because Simkin has created a new fad -people actually want to look like Mosiah now, as a fashion!

Once Saryon is captured and given the prophecy by Vanya, he realizes that he has to save Joram and the world by turning the boy in. Mosiah is sent roughly into the Outland, back to the technologists, dying, and Joram is captured as well. This is where we learn the true story of Anja, Joram, and the Bishop. This is where it is revealed to a select few that Joram is the Prince, stolen for many years, and allowed to live in the Outland because Vanya was afraid he would be killed otherwise.

This is also where we learn more about the political struggles. The Empress has been dead for a long time, and her brother is ready to become Emperor. However, Vanya doesn't support Prince Xavier, so they use magic to keep the appearance that the Empress is alive. Xavier uses the information that he has gathered, which points to Vanya's mistake, and the threat of revealing the existence of not only the Technologists but of the Dead Prince, to come to an agreement. Joram must be dealt with, and it will be kept quiet if Xavier can assume the throne. Vanya has no choice but to agree.

So through an emotional ordeal, Joram is sentenced to the Turning, where he is turned to living stone forever. That way, he cannot die and come back to life. He is to be turned into a Watcher, the living dead who watch the Border for whatever is on the other side. Saryon is given the Darksword, to keep as his penance for helping to create the thing. But at the last moment, Saryon steps directly in front of Joram and is turned to stone instead! Joram starts to fight the enforcers, but realizes the grief he has caused, and the sacrifice that Saryon has made for him. He places the Darksword in Saryon's stone hands, to be held there forever, and walks into the mists of the Beyond. He is followed by Gwendolyn. I wonder if they will be together wherever they arrive at.

And so this could have been a great ending to the story, and the world would be safe. Except for two things: The prophecy says that Joram will come back to life, and will hold the destruction of the world in his hands... Will he be able to retrieve the sword from stone hands, when even Xavier can't do it? The second ominous sign is Simkin's comments at the end. He seems to know what is going to happen, and is welcoming it. I really wonder what he is after...

On another topic, I found in the last book that the magical names of the wizards were too much for me, though by the end, I was using them with regularity. But the authors wisely used them often enough that I had no choice but to identify them with their occupation. When they were introduced in the first book, I was sure that I would simply gloss over them, but I now find that whenever I see Duuk-tsarith (enforcer) or Theldara (healer) and the others, I actually understand them. Sneaky, these authors...

So I am looking forward to what will happen next, and wonder what could possibly happen that could be as interesting as this was, especially since Saryon has been effectively removed as a character. Only a journey into the Triumph of the Darksword will tell.
 

 

3 stars

Also read July 13th to 29th, 1992  
   

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