01/10/2008. Contributed by Paul Skevington
pub: Bantam Spectra. 375 page enlarged paperback. Price: $12.00 (US), $15.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-553-38327-0. 421 page paperback. Price: $ 6.99 (US), $8.99 (CAN).
check out websites: www.bantamdell.com and www.christophergolden.com
'The Borderkind' is book two in Christopher Golden's 'Veil' Trilogy and provides a perfect excuse for the reader to seek out the first volume 'The Myth Hunters', which was in fact exactly what I did.
In 'The Myth Hunters' we are introduced to Oliver Bascombe, a lawyer who has spent much of his life suppressing his theatrical yearnings for the sake of his father who does not approve of such an ephemeral pastime as a potential career option. On the eve of his wedding, Jack Frost, a fairytale figure of a man with a body of ice, stumbles into his world, causing magic to shiver back into his life like melt-water dripping down the neck. Pursued by a monstrous creature and badly wounded, Frost enlists Oliver's aid but is forced in a final moment of desperation to take Oliver with him across the Veil, a magically created barrier that separates our world from the land of myth that lies beyond it. Unfortunately, those who cross the Veil in the company of one of the Borderkind (creatures such as Frost who can traverse the Veil at will) have the ability to return home again and therefore reveal the existence of this land. As such, anyone doing so earns themselves an instant death sentence from the relevant authorities. Frost pledges to aid Oliver in attempting to find a solution to his problem which provides the framework for a journey across a land filled with every kind of legendary creature from the harmless to the truly terrible.
At the start of 'Borderkind', Oliver has gone some way towards achieving his goals, having enlisted the aid of several magical creatures, most importantly Kitsune, a Japanese Fox Spirit with a dual persona of animal and woman. Kitsune has fallen in love with Oliver, which leads to many complications as Oliver still loves his fiancÚ, Julianna.
Worse than this, Oliver now knows that a fairytale monster named The Sandman has murdered Oliver's father and kidnapped his sister, using her as a lure to draw Oliver out of hiding. He has obtained a sword that may aid him in saving his own life, but unbeknownst to him his lover Julianna has accidentally followed him across the Veil in the company of the detective who was in charge of his case. Unlike him, they both took the one-way route and are seemingly sentenced to remain in this new land forever.
The Veil is a surprising series. Surprising in that what may seem like a familiar premise implying the start of what should by all rights be a mediocre entry into the fantasy canon is instead a work that manages to add new vigour to the genre of magic realism whilst simultaneously being one of the most entertaining adventure stories of the last few years. It is a series that primarily deals with love and friendship, the forces that bring us together and the forces that inevitably tear us apart. This is exemplified in the very nature of the land that Oliver finds himself within. Although it is often beautiful and always wondrous, it is predominantly a hostile and frightening place. It is a land where seemingly eternal figures of folklore are being mercilessly hunted by their own kind, forcing them to take refuge in secretive and claustrophobic ghettos. A constant fear of the unknown pervades the text. The characters that Oliver meets invariably have ulterior motives. Even Frost, perhaps the only person that Oliver allows himself to trust, knows more about Oliver's predicament than he lets on.
Fear causes the group to cling to each other ever more closely but tight spaces seem to make for loose grips. For example, Kitsune's love for Oliver, which should be a glorious thing, turns bitter when it becomes evident that it is unrequited. Their strong and undefined relationship is sundered when they are forced to bring it out from the shadows, withering in the light of full disclosure. Kitsune is the magic that Oliver can't fully embrace because of his fear. He chooses instead to embark on endless internal monologues on the nature of his love for Julianna. This is the only part of the sequence that so far has not entirely satisfied me in that the resolution of his feelings for these women seems a little too clean. Kitsune deserve more recognition for the skill of her hunt.
These same forces of attraction and dissipation are also seen to be working within the families of the principal characters. As mentioned, Oliver's father simply doesn't understand him and this perhaps contributes to his readiness to aid Frost in 'Myth Hunters'. At the same time, the connection between Olliver and his sister Collette is extremely powerful. The detective Halliwell has a troubled relationship with his daughter whom he has forced away from him through neglect for many years. Only in the extremity of her father's complete disappearance does this rift begin to heal, which is all the more tragic considering it is almost certainly too late for this to matter.
The families of the legendary characters also illustrate this theme, highlighted by the difficulties between Kitsune and her close relation Coyote and by the strife between the child-murdering Sandman and his more benevolent equivalent the Dustman.
This complex familial dynamic supports an involving narrative that shrieks along like a banshee, sweeping the reader towards the shocking conclusion of 'Borderkind'. If he maintains the quality in the final volume that we have seen in the series to date, then I hope to see some recognition of this series in fantasy circles next year.
Add SFcrowsnest.com daily news updates to your own web site or blog - just cut and paste the code below...
Stephen Hunt's novels - USA