Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: Heaven's Needle

Heaven's Needle, by Liane Merciel
Mass Market Paperback: 473 pages
Publisher: Pocket Star Books (Simon & Schuster), ©2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-5916-3
Copy: Purchased

Blurb: Unaware of the danger, two inexperienced Illuminers set out for the village of Carden Vale, at the foot of Duradh Mal, to minister to the people. The warrior Asharre, her face scarred with runes, her heart scarred by loss, is assigned to protect the young clerics. But in Carden Vale they find unspeakable horrors - the first hint of a terrifying ghost story come true.

The Sun Knight Kelland has been set free by the woman he loves, the archer Bitharn, but at the cost of undertaking a mission only he can fulfill. Joined by a Thornlord steeped in the magic of pain, they too make their way to Duradh Mal. There lies the truth behind the rumors of the dead come back to life, flesh ripped from bones, and creatures destroying themselves in a violent frenzy. And if Kelland cannot contain the black magic that has been unleased after six hundred years, an entire world will fall victim to a Mad God's malevolent plague...

Liane Merciel released a well-crafted debut effort (The River Kings' Road) a little over a year ago, also reviewed here. It was a fine effort, in fact an effort that left an indelible imprint which served as a reminder to acquire and read her next work as quickly as reasonably possible. After having just completed the final, and stunning, of four hundred and seventy-three pages, I am rather relieved. Perhaps a fear of the worst prevailed as the approach to this work, but happily it can be said that Merciel suffered no sophmore jinx. Heaven's Needle is everything one might have hoped for, and certainly everything Merciel promised it would be.

In Heaven's Needle, Merciel brings back a couple of characters from the first book, Kelland and Bitharn, and a host of new characters. The new characters include a Thornlord of Ang'arta, a sigrir warrior woman of the far northern seas, some novices of Celestia, some tragic, if ethically challenged, victims and a Mad God. Based upon the ending of the first book, and the SBR interview with Merciel, it was expected that the next novel of Ithelas was due to take a darker turn - and it sure did that.

Kelland and Bitharn are agents of Celestia. Referred to as the Bright Lady, she is the goddess of sunlight, healing, love and, generally speaking, all things good. While the story briefly introduces many of the gods of this world, only three play a major role. Celestia, Maol and Kliasta. Kliasta, referred to as the Pale Maiden, rules over things such as pain and agony. Maol, the Mad God, is equal parts plague, madness and stomach-pumping vileness.

Kelland and Bitharn join forces with the Thornlord Malentir, a follower of Kliasta and under more ordinary conditions a natural enemy. This unlikeliest of alliances is bound for Duradh Mal, a once powerful fortress now utterly dead, abandoned and corrupt many centuries later. Another party is also involved in the region. From this other party is a character with a great background story, Asharre. Asharre is a sigrir from the North and she has become rather grim of late, and for very good reason. Nothing further will be said of Asharre, other than Merciel has another top-shelf character to work with in the Ithelas world.

The element of horror involved in Heaven's Needle is well rendered. The sense of madness infecting the victims of the Mad God is gut churning and wretched. The loss of connection to reality and the seduction, by confusion, of the individual's free-will is horrifying. As if the things suffered by the victims weren't bad enough, what the victims do to themselves is even worse. As the protagonists reach points of confrontation with evil and madness, the reader may be inclined to put the book down to avoid soul abrasion. It is herein attested to that you will just pick it right back up to find out what happened and if any of it will be permanent or irrevocable.

Stepping back to take in the wider view presented by the totality of the two books, one might be reminded of World War II. Specifically in the context of how several different things must contemporarily occur in order for something so horrifying to take place on such a horrifying scale. These first novels of Ithelas seem to be the staging groundwork for a much larger conflict which lightly percolates beneath the surface...for now.

Heaven's Needle is an excellent work for Merciel. In this particular opinion, Merciel has created something that will certainly be followed, as well as having created a fan. I would like more Ithelas, however I would like it right now...please.

Highly Recommended

Monday, May 9, 2011

On Sabbatical...kinda

I have been away as a result of numerous things. Alongside the minutiae of the day-to-day, I have since begun school full-time, as well as work full-time. I am working on a master's degree to brighten my horizons in the "new economy." Also, there is going to be another addition to the family in mid-July. Thus, I have been a scrambling fool with increasingly less time to accomplish things.

I think I may have finally acclimated to the pace, however. Though my amount of reading time has significantly decreased, I hope to be able to bring forth a couple of reviews each month. Per usual, my review will also appear at Speculative Book Review. In a not so usual turn of events, my reviews may begin to appear elsewhere also, but we shall have to see.

By the beginning of spring, in 2012, I hope to be tearing it up all over the place.