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Fantasy Index


A novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
(1988, Bantam Spectra)

The Darksword Trilogy, book 3

War spreads over the land as Joram returns from Beyond, bringing an army of the Dead with him.


-- Second reading (paperback)
April 19th to 27th, 2002


Very disappointing: I don't know why our characters were in the book at all, since they didn't get to do anything.  However, there were enough good moments, and although it ends rather depressingly, there is at least some hope for the future of the world.

Spoiler review:

I found this concluding book of the Darksword trilogy to be very dull.  I was not interested in the battle plans for the Field of Conquest, and I thought that once Joram entered the battle, it would get more interesting.  Not so.  I think this had to do with the style of the book.  It was written in an over-arching way, telling us of the grand things that happened, rather than giving it from a character standpoint.  Sometimes this works well, but here it did not. 

When I finished the last book, I was worried about not having the gentle and devoted Saryon along for the ride.  Fortunately, my fears about him going missing from this book were unwarranted.  Unfortunately, he doesn't get much exposure.  Neither does Mosiah, whom I thought would have a major role, based on the opening chapters.  Aside from throwing a tantrum, he doesn't even go after vengeance from Simkin, whom he still believes betrayed them in the Grove after the party in Merilon. 

Mosiah gave us some much-needed character insight before the battle at the Field of Conquest, but he would have had to become Prince Garald's aide to give us the perspective that we needed.  I did not really like Garald in this book.  After a great appearance in Doom of the Darksword, I was really anticipating meeting this character again, but I was sorely disappointed.  He had looked like a person willing to do everything for his people, but here he was not portrayed like that.

I liked the compassionate Joram at the beginning of this book, and I even liked the way he took command partway through.  But we didn't see enough of him, either.  I like the way he wanted to put Saryon out of his misery with the darksword.  But it makes me think that any Dead person could have removed the darksword from Saryon's hands.  In the previous book, it was explained that only the Dead could wield the weapon.  That is presumably why Joram was able to remove it.  There are other Dead in Thimhallan; surely Emperor Xavier could have had one of them take out.  They would not have been as Dead as Joram, but according to Saryon, Joram was the only truly Dead person ever born in Thimhallan, so the Dead of the Iron Wars must have been of similar magic-skills as the Technologists.  Surely Xavier knew about the Technologists' texts, and where to find them.  He could have come to the same conclusions as Saryon.

But then again, Xavier appears to have lost his edge.  He was so sinister at the end of the last book.  Here, he is like a raving lunatic.  I am glad we didn't see the Field of Conquest from his eyes.  But seeing it from Garald's eyes wasn't much better.  I am not clear on the concept of this battlefield.  It is said that nobody dies -then why do the wizards practice spells of such magnitude?  Centaurs certainly kill their victims, as do the giants and the arrows of the Technologists.  And all of these were on the Field. 

But it doesn't really matter, does it, because people do die, from the tanks of the people from our world, from Beyond.  And who can't enjoy a test of magic against technology?  I am sure that magic is superior, for those who know how to fight.  But technology does not get tired as quickly as a magician does, especially when he doesn't have a catalyst nearby.  Still, because it was told from the narrator's point of view, it was less interesting than the similar parts where Mosiah discovered the enemy and their lasers, guided by infrared sensors. 

It seems that I was mistaken when I thought the book takes place in the late 20th century.  It is probably more like the late 22nd century, for people have traveled to the stars, other worlds, and even committed genocide there.  But the technology doesn't seem to have advanced much, for the tanks still travel on treads, though the soldiers use lasers. 

This brings me to the question of the Border.  Where is it?  When Joram emerged, why did he arrive in a green field, when the army had to arrive in spaceships?  It is obviously another planet, but the Border seems to defy space, then.  I can accept that, but the question remains how did Joram cross back through the Border into Thimhallan, when the tanks had to use spaceships; he certainly didn't.  It also begs the question of how Merlyn and the other original magic users found their way to this place in the beginning.  The authors use the phrase "they burned their ships upon arriving", which implies that they either traveled to Thimhallan by boat, or they had the capability to build magical spaceships!  Wow, that would have been incredible!

My next problem is the character of Menju the Sorcerer.  He has been in the world Beyond for forty years (4 years on Thimhallan), and he is crazy with rage and bitterness at having been cast Beyond and losing his magic.  When Joram re-enters Thimhallan, he breaks the magical Border, and allows the forces from Beyond to enter as well.  Menju takes control of the army, and the pliable Major, and plans to eradicate the population of Thimhallan, leaving some breeding women and catalysts behind.  This makes the struggle one for the Universe, not just Joram's world.  It brings the tension level down, and makes for a much less interesting character than if he wasn't power-mad. 

I wonder what kind of peaceful conflict of ideology we could have had if Menju was not here.  His only reason for existing is to give armed conflict to the book.  What if the tanks had arrived and been mistaken on the Field of Conquest?  If the magicians then attacked them, and they were acting in self-defense, breaking Menju's hold would not have stopped the battles.  As it is, one side is bitter, the other side is scared.  What if both sides were bitter and scared? 

In any case, that doesn't happen, and the Major, afraid that the wizards will take the fight to them, launch a preemptive strike against Merilon.  According to the map, Merilon is quite a distance from the mountains, even if it could be seen from the Font.  What kind of watch were the duuk-tsarith keeping on the enemy that allowed them to get all the way to Merilon without being noticed?  From the Field of Conquest, it would likely take months to get to Merilon -days at least.  It took Simkin and Saryon weeks to get from the Outland borders to the village of the Technologists in the first book, and they even used a Corridor! 

When we finally get to the main characters, halfway through the book, they convince Joram to take the role of leader, since Xavier died in the initial onslaught (thankfully, though it was a shock).  The character interaction was more interesting than the grand battles, but I kept wishing they would actually do something! 

Fortunately, we have Simkin, who is always a hoot.  Like the rest of the cast, he doesn't appear for a good portion of the book, but when he does, he is hilarious.  The "game" he referred to at the end of the last book is likely his plot to get to the worlds Beyond without losing his magic.  He has probably done all he can in this world, and wants some new experiences.

I believe him when he says he was there when the Prophecy was spoken, centuries ago.  Maybe he's even older than that.  No wonder he is so bored with everything that happens, and would betray his best friend if it would make things more interesting.  He would do anything for a diversion.  But I wonder how he could pull it off.  Did he ever fake his own death?  Have people known the Simkin that we do for generations, or did he change names and appearances every thirty years?  Otherwise no doubt the duuk-tsarith would have at least suspected something.   

And so when he appears in the enemy camp, he plays both sides -he plays a neutral, a real neutral, who tells everybody all the plans that he was privy to, in order to make things "more fair".  And his reward?  Menju tells him he will bring Simkin back to his world in exchange for betraying Joram.  So he lays the trap, giving Joram hope that his wife, Gwendolyn can be cured at the Temple of the Necromancer.  Gwen does not live in the world of the living since she passed into Beyond.  She talks to the dead, and has hilarious conversations with them, but cannot communicate their messages truly to those who need them.  I don't know what the mice in the attic represent -people, obviously, but dying from what? 

Simkin also finds out that Menju plans to betray him, though, so he switches places with Joram, binding the young man.  We the readers don't know this, but the signs were obvious in hindsight.  When he entered the garden of the Necromancers, I suspected that he knew of the trap, and so didn't wear the darksword for some reason.  I only realized that it was Simkin when he decided to lounge against the altar in anticipation of something, ignoring Gwen.  It was a really neat move, and nearly tricked me as it did Saryon. 

Unfortunately, Simkin meets a rather unsatisfying ending.  Bishop Vanya knew about the trap Menju laid for Joram, and sent his Executioner to deal with both of them, ridding Thimhallan of the two menaces.  Using a revolver to make it look like Menju killed Joram, the Executioner fires the shots that take Simkin into the world of the dead.  And he is barely mentioned after that.  I thought he would at least communicate with Gwen.

There is a pretty cool battle between the Executioner and his opponents, but it ends in a cliché with Menju killing him, but being killed at the same time, when both Saryon and Joram, not to mention innocent Gwen, all survive.  I didn't really enjoy the fight between the dragon and the cruiser, which left both destroyed, as well. 

And Joram's purpose in the prophecy?  He is to release the magic into the universe again by unplugging the Font, breaking the giant Darkstone altar at the top of the source of all magic.  This of course, destroys the world as the residents of Thimhallan know it.  Everybody is left bereft of magic, as it disperses evenly through the universe.  Eventually, it will concentrate in vessels that can harbor it properly, like most of those residents.  But for the moment, they are helpless. 

And speaking of Gwen, it is very convenient that she returns to normal after Joram frees the magic.  She has performed her task, even though she wasn't born to it.  She finishes the prophecy that I knew was missing some part, by saying that Joram could also save the world in addition to destroying it.  But that doesn't matter, except to give Saryon back his faith, because Joram does destroy their world, though it will be reborn in time. She told Joram what he had to do to "save" the world, as well. I don't like the way she turned to necromancy only to serve the purposes of the story, instead of through a natural progression.  And giving her back her sanity is probably a gift of the Almin, but I still don't appreciate it.  I wonder if she loses her magical ability to speak with the dead, as everybody else lost their powers.

The ending leaves me with some hope that the world Garald and the others knew could survive.  Removing handcuffs from all the people being "relocated for their own good" is a good start.  Self-government is another very important aspect.  I don't like the forced relocation, even if it is a realistic situation.  Might Thimhallan return in time to the calm place it once was eventually, when the magic settles down?  More likely, the Powers That Be don't want anybody there so that they can study it to no end.  But I wonder how much we can trust the Major's word, since he was so effectively steamrolled by Menju early in the book.

On some miscellaneous notes, I can't help wonder if we were missing something at the end.  We got all of Joram's battle, but nothing from the battle of Merilon.  We only learn afterwards that Mosiah was critically injured, and that somehow Garald's father dies -how, when he was so far away from Merilon?  All we get is a bunch of flashes in the sun from the vantage point of the Temple.  Also, it doesn't seem possible that a year's worth of technological and forge-made weapons, and battle training could be repeated in a single day, not to mention creating another Forge.  It took a year to train in Sharakan -what good will a day make in Merilon, which is admittedly much more comfortable with its distinct classes?  I suppose this proves to Garald that the people of Merilon are just as good, in the end, as those in Sharakan.  When it comes to giving their best, the battle Garald was initially fighting was not really important.

Why did the authors have Simkin tell us that Joram was winning the battle at the end of the last book, when he left the world?  Is it important, or was Simkin simply mistaken in thinking this was ominous sign?  Joram made a sacrifice, just as Saryon did. 

As a curiosity, I wonder if anybody survived the round-up at the end.  Surely they could not find every single person in Thimhallan.  I wonder if any duuk-tsarith were left bereft of the magic in their far underground caverns, or their hidden training areas?  If they survived, they might return in a few years, and be unaccounted-for spies and conduct hit-and-runs on their enemies.  That might be cool to read about.

It is unfortunate that in a tragedy such as this one, only the world fell victim.  Saryon made the ultimate sacrifice- and failed in his task, when he thought he had to destroy the darksword since he also believed Joram was dead.  He should not have survived -that would have been the real tragedy for Joram.  Joram went on for far too long with a bullet in his shoulder.  At the very least, he should have sacrificed his wife.  But no, we get her back, safe and sound.  It appears like all of this was the gift of the Almin to Joram, in thanks for bringing balance to the world. 

These authors present God in all of their books, that I am aware of.  With the exception of the Dragonlance Saga, which looks like it is now slowly adopting a view of one God, the One appears in both the Death Gate Cycle, and, more prominently, the Star of the Guardians (especially Ghost Legion), though He disappears by the time the Mag Force 7 trilogy comes along.  Not a complaint- just an observation.

In all, this book was quite a disappointment, though not a failure.  I was going to lower the mark a little more, but there was enough, barely, to keep me interested in the fate of the world, at least.  The Darksword is destroyed, and Joram and Gwen will live alone (as far as they know) on Thimhallan, since neither world wants them.  Yet.  I'm pretty sure he will reappear in the much more recent fourth book in this "trilogy".  Suffice it to say that I was not happy with the way this book went, but the ending gives me a little hope as to the eventual happiness of the next generation of magic-users. 


-- First reading (paperback)
August 3rd to 11th, 1992


No review available.


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