JOURNEY INTO THE VOIDA novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
(2003, EOS Books)
Sovereign Stone Trilogy, book 3
Dagnarus attempts to seize kingship of the world, while the Dominion Lords bring the Sovereign Stone together.
-- First reading (hardcover)
Strong on characters, weak on plot, this book was enjoyable for the "moments in the lives" of the people that it portrayed, but little else.Spoiler review:
Journey into the Void picks up immediately where Guardians of the Lost left off, without a break. There are references to what happened there, summaries of what went on before, but they are mostly done with subtlety, having somebody recount a rumor or memory to somebody else who was not present. However, little knowledge of the previous book is necessary.
The book can easily be divided into several sections, which deal with characters continuously for several chapters at a time, then moving on to others. The first section deals with Shadamehr and how he comes to terms with being mortally wounded, only to be saved by Alise, his love, through Void magic. The trick here is that Shadamehr did die, but was reborn, thus fulfilling his destiny of becoming a true Dominion Lord. We don't learn that until the end, however, because the gods don't give him his magical medallion or name until then. Since the plot, such as it is, no longer needs the Pecwae Bashae, he is killed, but in a rather heroic way, saving the Sovereign Stone from a Vrykyl. Jessan and the Grandmother leave the city with Bashae's body, and we don't hear much about them afterwards. All of this section feels like a remnant of the previous book, as if the authors could not fit it all in.
Gareth and Sylwith are ghosts from the distant past. Gareth is an actual ghost, while Sylwith is actually alive. The narrative makes it seem like these two are still working for Dagnarus, but also against him. Dagnarus was under the impression that he had set a trap for the Dominion Lords, but it was actually a trap for him. The way these two plot makes me think of the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy, where the swords were destined to arrive at the castle, but it was important who they arrived with. In this case, however, it would not have mattered if Dagnarus captured the Stone and brought it to the Portal of the Gods himself, because it was the gods who took the stone back, and the Dominion Lords had nothing to do with his destruction. I still don't understand what made Gareth and Sylwith turn away from Dagnarus' path after his first demise. Not the simple fact that they were out of his charismatic presence and reason suddenly overcame them, I'm sure.
I also completely agree with Sadamehr's assessment about the gods: that they are at fault for what happened. Why give the Stone to Tamaros when they knew he would bring the world to chaos? But being gods, how can any mortal understand their minds? A clearer picture does not emerge by the end of the book.
The second section deals with Dagnarus becoming King of Vinnengael, something that he has wanted for two hundred years. He is so much like a kid looking for approval. He has all the power in the world, but wants love and respect. He declines the kingship until he commands the respect of every high-ranking person in the country. His plot was well-conceived, especially since the young king he usurped the throne from was Shakur in disguise. I thought the plot became more interesting since Shakur and Valura started defying Dagnarus. Shakur, especially, constantly questioned his lord, from strategy to his loyalty to his troops. For Dagnarus still had to deal with his taan army, which surrounded the city. He plays both sides, allowing the complete destruction of the taan army, but through huge losses for the people of New Vinnengael.
We get all of this through the point of view of Rigiswald, former teacher of Shadamehr. I couldn't figure out why Rigiswald refused to give advice to the more powerful people in the city, like the heads of the magical orders, especially when they asked for it. I concede that it was refreshing to see a story where people who know the facts are so far out of the power circle that they do not even try to reach those who could act on their information. And there was, in fact, little that anybody could do except accept Dagnarus. Otherwise he would have overrun the city. It was not what he wanted to do, but nobody had a doubt that he would have done it.
Rigiswald knows a great deal about Dagnarus, and sees through his schemes. But we only get to see the mental prowess of the man, because he does nothing, says nothing, and disappears into the wilderness soon after Dagnarus takes power. He reappears later in the story for a couple of pages, without anything significant to say.
The third section deals with Raven, the Trevenici warrior who was captured by the taan and survived. Raven is now guardian to the rebel vrykyl K'let, who somehow broke his loyalty to Dagnarus and also survived. How he broke away, when Dagnarus constantly claims that he can kill any of his vrykyl at any time, the story never tells. Since all the way back in Well of Darkness, I have found the magic to be so inconsistent that it is not really worth asking the why of things like this. Raven makes friends and enemies, and turns one of the half-taan into a lover. K'let's rebels have stolen the Dwarven portion of the Sovereign Stone, something we find out from Wolfram and the dragon Ranessa. Both of these stories were tedious, and in the end did not add much to the overall arc. I think the point was to show us some more of the taan culture, and how the half-taan gained respect because of Raven's teachings. I liked Raven's character, however, and Wolfram's denial of who he actually was. Wolfram and Ranessa are the ones who rescued the stone from K'let's soldiers.
In the fourth section, Shadamehr and his friends make it to safety by orken boat, only to be taken hostage by the Captain of Captains. My only question at that point was whether the orks were taking the stone to Old Vinnengael, or trying to save their portion which was hidden in the sacred mountain. I doubted much that they were in service to Dagnarus. I quite enjoyed the orks, and their culture was very different from most, and quite amusing. They were very practical, and their use of omens for everything was fun.
Here it is shown that all species, with the possible exception of the dwarves, practice Void magic, when we were told, presumably from a human point of view, that none of the races did. Humans are surprised every time they encounter somebody who knows void magic, but it makes sense to understand it, as long as the practitioners do not fully embrace it. We were told several times between this book and the last that the Vrykyl have infiltrated the governments of all races. I have trouble seeing that in the dwarven society. I thought that the chief of chiefs might be a Vrykyl, but was probably wrong, unless the words in the epilog (when speaking about Wolfram) that a lightning-fire would soon engulf the world, mean something like this.
In this section, most of the supporting characters meet up, something that I really liked. Also nice was the way that Jessan and Grandmother Pecwae left the story on the back of Ranessa. The story had no need of them much earlier on, but at least they got a nice sendoff after much undocumented traveling.
Almost the entire book is simply moving characters around until they get to Old Vinnengael. So it is a good thing that the characters are well-drawn, and that this is a character story. I thought it would have been nice, however, if they had to pass some milestones along the way. The authors focused on an assortment of activities for the characters, few of which were given for a notable reason. The plot moved forward behind the scenes. Dagnarus did not need to become King, but he desperately wanted it. We see lots of time-consuming antics on the ork ship, which do nothing to advance the story. But we do get a lot of character insight.
The final section of the book brings the four main characters into Old Vinnengael. I didn't see the point of most of what happened here. Why insist that only Dominion Lords could survive in the city? Nothing threatened them, and Raven survived following K'let into the city. They didn't use their magic or armor to ascend the ramp leading to the palace, even when the dead spirits attacked them. Similarly, the Lord of Ghosts told Valura that she could not pass. Valura, dressed as the murdered Sylwith, simply passed anyway. What good was that?
The "climax" of the book was a profound disappointment, as was the lack of a real denouement. The epilog was completely insufficient to close up the book. I wonder what kind of sequels the authors were planning. We are told that the Stone was given to the people of Loerem twice before. We get an Adam-and-Eve story, but the ghost of Tamaros says that the story of the second time can be told later. When? Shakur also survives, undoubtedly to become a menace in some sequel. Shadamehr actually asks Tamaros what the point was for the gods to give him the stone, and he replies that he does not know. I would say the same about the book. What was the point?
The four portions of the Stone arrive at the Portal of the Gods. The Dominion Lords attack Dagnarus, but do little damage. It is K'let who stabs Dagnarus with the Dagger of the Vrykyl, taking all forty lives at once. What was the point of giving him those lives, then?!? The dagger, being the fifth portion of the Stone, is inserted, and the Stone disappears back to the gods.
We didn't Journey into the Void, as the title of the book suggests, nor do we see a vrykyl (or Dagnarus; it's hard to tell) fighting a dragon, as depicted on the cover.
Dagnarus dies, as expected, and the Stone disappears, but the world goes on, not even knowing that great things happened (or not-so-great, as the case may be) around them.
I felt that the book was disjointed and didn't have enough focus. Once again, Divine Intervention was required to get everybody to the Portal of the Gods, but their journeys were not very interesting. Fortunately, the characters were interesting, but that is not enough to hold a full-length novel.
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