FIRE SEAA novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
(1992, Bantam Spectra)
The Death Gate Cycle, book 3
In the world of stone, the travelers find a dying people resorting to extreme methods for survival.
-- Second reading (paperback)
The third world in the Death Gate universe proves to be very different from the first two. On Arianus, we met elves and humans at war, with peaceful dwarves maintaining some mysterious piece of equipment. There was one Sartan, Alfred, and he was clumsy and inept. However, when he discovered a Patryn nearby, he was able to take action, to a certain extent. There were no Sartan on Prian, the lush world of fire, except perhaps Zifnab. Humans fought among themselves, while elves supported them by selling arms, and dwarves were isolated. The world was being overrun by giant Titans, and the only hope for the Mensch was Haplo’s flying ship, which took some survivors to the ancient Sartan dwellings, where they could perhaps start a new life.Spoiler review:
On Abarrach, Haplo probably expects to see more of the same. I don’t think he expects to find any Sartan, and is completely surprised to find only Sartan on this world. Without support from the intertwined worlds of Air, Fire and Water, the world of Stone could not thrive. The elves, humans and dwarves died out, and the Sartan had to use their magic to stay alive, instead of minding over the Mensch.
Adding perspective to the world, we get to see Alfred again. Somehow he managed to get through Death’s Gate on Arianus into the Nexus. A ripple in the worlds was associated his passing through; it was never fully explained, either. Regardless, Haplo is not happy to see his old enemy, just as he is about to pass through the Death Gate. In the passing, he and Alfred experience a scene from each others’ past. Alfred sees Haplo’s parents die in the Labyrinth, while Haplo sees Alfred awaken in joy, only to find his people all dead. Part of the reason for that, if not the full reason, lies on Abarrach.
As with all the other books in this series, we start from another point of view. This time, it is Baltazar, wizard to a King and Prince of Cairn Telest. While I was anxious to see Haplo again, I liked the introductory fifty pages that told of their people leaving the land of their ancestors. Baltazar was more scientist than most others, reading ancient books, learning of the Death Gate, and exploring beyond his realm to find out why the river was drying up, and the heat-giving Colossus were growing cool. It turns out the world-surrounding ocean had turned to ice, and he believed the realms closer to the magma center of the world were stealing the heat. Thus the remaining people of Cairn Telest make a long journey down the tunnels to the cavern nearest the fire sea. There, a fire-dragon kills the king, but Prince Edmund leads them on. It seems rather pointless to include the king in this tale, especially given the attitude of the fire dragon later on.
The Sartan of Abarrach behave like the mensch on the other worlds. Where Alfred states that his people had never been to war among themselves, and Haplo states that “we don’t kill our own”, these Sartan have devolved enough to behave medievally. These are the people Haplo and Alfred meet when they arrive from Death’s Gate, across the fire sea, to Safe Harbor and Necropolis.
The Sartan have done worse than that, though. In order to save themselves, with the poisonous atmosphere and the toll it takes on their magic to survive, they have discovered the way to raise the dead, in order to make the dead work for them. The dead plough the fields and serve the living, but it takes necromancers to maintain them. In the first wave, it is the dead who form the armies that fight against each other.
When the army of Cairn Telest meets the army of Necropolis, Prince Edmund narrates the battle to Haplo. Here lies my greatest complaint about this book. Edmund and Baltazar (at first) believe the two visitors are from another Cairn, yet they explain things to them as if it was their first time seeing them, which of course it is. Edmund simply thinks things must be very different in their Cairn. Baltazar realizes that they came through Death’s Gate. When he realizes what he has seen, Haplo knows it is wrong, and feel revolted, yet also promises himself to bring the secret of necromancy to his Lord.
The more he learns of necromancy, the more he is revolted. Yet he continues to delude himself that he will bring a necromancer with him into the Nexus.
When Edmund calls a truce to the battle, they meet the Necropolis necromancers Duke Jonathan and Duchess Jera, who take them to the Dynast. Edmund is incensed at having to bow to another lord, yet he goes willingly, only to beg permission to enter the city as refugees.
The conflict that causes the most problems for the characters actually starts with Haplo’s dog. Alfred claims to "know all about the dog", presumably a disassociated spirit of some sort –I don’t recall at all. Beasts are not permitted in the crowded city, so Haplo is told to leave his dog behind, but refuses. When a dead soldier throws the dog into a burning pit, Haplo goes crazy attacking the cadaver. Why he didn’t go after the Chancellor instead? The Chancellor was the one who gave the orders. Haplo could not touch the dead, and was thrown back from his encounter. I don’t quite understand the reason. When the dead are told to kill Haplo, Alfred steps in the way and “kills” the cadaver. That is, he disassociates the spirit from the body, allowing the spirit to go free, becoming dead, while the corpse could not be reanimated.
For Alfred knows the terrible price of necromancy. I don’t understand why he doesn’t share it with anybody other than Haplo. He has plenty of opportunity to explain to Jonathan, yet all he does is cower and rage against them, without giving any reasons. Few would have believed him, anyway, but he might have convinced a few.
Because of the crowded streets and the mindless dead who are guarding them, Haplo and Alfred are separated. Haplo goes with Edmund to the Dynast’s castle, while Alfred is taken to the Duke and Duchess’ lands, where they can explore Alfred’s role in “the prophecy”.
When it becomes known that Edmund has been murdered and Haplo poisoned (because Dynast Kleitus wants his rune-covered skin to join Sartan and Patryn magic and rule the worlds), the Duke and Duchess plan a rescue. Unfortunately, their contact in the palace is a double-agent, allowing the Dynast to set a trap, which they blunder into. The Duchess is killed, and the Duke resurrects her –turning her into a lazar, where the spirit did not have enough time to leave the body. This makes her into an intelligent cadaver, with powerful magic and the ability to do as she wishes with her own body –not just slave labor. She turns from a rebel into an obsessed “dead”, intent on punishing the living by killing them all and turning them into lazar. How is this “freeing” them, as she states? She is enslaving them all in revenge, but doesn’t allow even the old dead some peace.
Alfred, meanwhile, heals Haplo, who is anything but grateful. They flee into the catacombs, where Alfred discovers a room with a table made of pure white wood. The table was brought from the old world –our world –before the Sartan remade it. There is no explanation of why it was brought through, except that it might make communication easier between the multiple interconnected worlds. Instead of communicating with the other worlds, however, in order to ask them to help, they find they can communicate with a higher power, a god to the Sartan, who always thought they were gods themselves.
Jonathan understands immediately, though Alfred deceives himself, and Haplo refuses to believe. They are forced to flee as Dynast Kleitus enters the room, but is killed by the dead, who rally to Jera’s cry to punish the living for their crimes against the dead. Kleitus, however, becomes more dangerous, now that he can command the dead. Jera seems to join him, for unexplained reasons, as she wanted to punish the living, and now she is aiding the most powerful of those she wanted to punish.
The dead go on a rampage, killing all the people in Necropolis, making it into a true city of the dead. Then Kleitus takes his army across the fire sea to attack the remnants of the Cairn Telest. Haplo, Alfred, Jonathan and the cadaver of Prince Edmund try to cross using the fallen colossus that spans the sea, broken into pieces. The battles that destroyed the colossus are what caused the heat to leave the outer regions like Cairn Telest. The timing here is way off. If they expected that they could cross in time to beat the dead army, and climb onto the back of the unexpectedly-generous fire dragon when the army is halfway across, then how did they arrive at the same time as the army? It took the fire-dragon the same amount of time to cross halfway as the army, when it was said to be so much faster. Even given that it had to move upstream a little, the timing doesn’t make sense.
In any case, they wouldn’t have been able to escape because of the size of the army. While Haplo, Alfred and the dog run for the ship, Jonathan allows himself to be killed, then takes his place as a lazar. He knows he is the chosen one, who can bring death to the dead. And in the expected battle that follows, Jonathan’s lazar “kills” Edmund’s cadaver, instead of fighting the living. He uses Alfred’s spell to do this, and continues to offer death to the dead, while protecting the living.
By the end of the book, Kleitus and Jera are regrouping, and Jonathan waits for his time of prophecy to come, as the Death Gates will open within the next two books. I have no recollection of what happens at that time!
Haplo goes into a healing trance as they prepare to enter Death’s Gate back to the Nexus, and he offers Alfred a chance to escape while he sleeps. The Lord of the Nexus seems to know some of this, as he does not believe Haplo’s report, which simply states that Abarrach is a dead world. That is true, to a certain extent…
All throughout the book, Haplo has been having doubts, and it seemed to start when he lived a few moments in Alfred’s body. He manages to convince himself that he will bring his master the most valuable prize –the ability to create an army of the dead. Yet as the book progresses, it takes more effort to convince himself that it is what he wants to do, the right thing to do. He is realizing that the Sartan are no longer the enemy, and that the hate that sustained him through the labyrinth was not entirely justified. The fact that he can’t even face his master after the journey to Abarrach says that perhaps he doesn’t believe in his master anymore, even though he can probably convince himself that he does.
This book gives us a short history of what happened to the world before the sundering. After the dark ages and renaissance, which resulted in the death of magic and the rise of science, the pendulum swung back and man nearly destroyed himself with science. I object to giving a specific date to this, especially in a standard year numbering system like the Christian calendar. If anything, it should have been left very vague. “End of the twentieth century” would mean nothing to “present day” Sartan, who are generations removed, and it isolates the story. The mutations that followed the war allowed a subset of people to develop the rune-magic, and became Sartan. The balance to that were the Patryns, who came later. The war between them led to the sundering. As Alfred states, the sundering was the height of criminal arrogance if a higher power truly existed.
We will hear more of that in the next book, in the world of water. As for the world of stone, while it seemed like a horror movie, with the walking dead all over the place, I think it was less interesting because of the lack of mensch. But since the Sartan were so much like the mensch, with their castles and swords, it had a certain appeal of its own. Still, I didn’t find that it was written as well as the previous two books. It represents an essential part of the Death Gate worlds, and the evolution of a people isolated from all they knew and living in a world that tests their strengths in the ultimate way, to the ultimate extreme.
-- First reading (paperback)
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