by Julian May
copy provided by me (♫ a name I call myself, fah – a long, long way to run♫)
I am rather surprised that this book, and series, has as low a profile as it seems to. I picked up on this series through sheer happenstance while reading an old post, in an obscure thread, from years ago, on SFFWorld. As you can see, the book has rather fine cover art. The dust cover bears testimonials from Jean Auel (on front) and Fritz Lieber (on back). Given the date of copyright and printing, to give nothing of the story away, it would be fair to say it was influenced by Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy. In fact, if Conqueror’s Moon is any indicator of the remainder of the series, May’s Boreal Moon trilogy may be every bit as good as the Farseer trilogy.
My Summary: Centuries ago, Bazekoy, Emperor of the World, sailed north from the continent, across the Boreal Sea, to High Blenholme Isle. There, to tame and conquer its wildness. Replete with fae creatures (including spunkies, green men, salka, etc.) and different forces of magic, it can only be conquered in the basest sense. Down through the ages, fae creatures and ethereal forces survive and remain bound to, or by, none. As with all empires, Bazekoy’s slowly withered and failed. Now, the Prince Heritor of Cathra, Conrig Wincantor, seeks to revive Bazekoy’s empire. First, by uniting the four separate kingdoms of Blenholme Isle under the Act of Sovereignty, ruled by Cathra.
Conrig, and many close to him, all harbor their own personal secrets. Alliances twist and turn, as Cathra moves against its neighboring kingdom, Didion. While temporal powers scheme their political machinations, ethereal powers play their own capricious games. While Conrig’s liegemen are all eager for conquest, many are alarmed by his recruiting of practitioners of the wilder form of magic, the sigil stones employing the Beaconfolk, also known as the Great Lights, or the Coldlight Army. Those of the Coldlight Army are clearly interested in mortal affairs, from a sense of mere amusement. It is an amusement that can be fatally whimsical at times. Their capabilities, behaviors and nature, as the author reveals it (very limitedly), would lead the reader to conclude that the Coldlight Army is a continuum of demigods. It is said that entering bargains with the Beaconfolk can only lead to losing one’s soul. Conrig Wincantor, flirting with any potential ally, or force capable of serving his ends, seems certain to find out.
My Take: This is the opening book in an alternate world, epic fantasy fiction series. It is set in the usual European feudal mold. The military level of technology includes mounted calvary and medieval style arms. The navies do use guns of a sort to fire “tarnblaze” shells – a sulphurous and highly incendiary concoction that, when burning, cannot be extinguished, even by magical means.
May’s characters are better than average. A point of contention here is that her male characters seem to be one-dimensional, and base at that. The female characters are all rather well realized.
May’s story unfolds using two styles. The prologue is told from the first-person perspective of Snudge, one of the tale’s main characters. In the time of the prologue, Snudge is in advanced old age (~80 years old), living in exile on the continent and is chronicling the story of Blenholme Isle during the years of his life – an undertaking that may incur fatal, political consequences. The main body of the story is a third-person narrative from several major and minor POVs (no less than eight). A difficulty with 20th century western civilization figures of speech (e.g. "sitting on the sidelines") arose which was annoying, if rare.
This particular approach is one parallel to Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy. The character Snudge is, loosely, similar to FitzChivalry Farseer. There are several other, smaller and less relevant, similarities to be found.
To be clear, Farseer may have been a contributing influence, but in no way would one be reasonable in saying May has “ripped off” Hobb. The tale has enough within it, unique unto itself, to categorize such comparisons as broad and superficial generalities.
Verdict: Highly Recommended
Next: Ironcrown Moon, book 2 of Julian May’s Boreal Moon trilogy.