01/07/2009. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: TOR/Sci Fi Channel. 368 page small hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $27.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1882-4.
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
'All The Windwracked Stars' begins with an ending, the aftermath of a battle between waelcyrge, valkyries in Anglo-Saxon, which involved the Grey Wolf, the sun-eater and some kind of Ragnarok. It starts with a two-headed stallion called Kasimir, a valraven, steed of the waelcyrge, now dying. He is saved by a waelcyrge named Muire, more of a poet than a warrior. They get rejuvenated by the Light in some sort of miracle. The Grey Wolf is also still alive, too.
After this confusing introduction, which I took to be based on Norse legends, twenty-three hundred years pass in two Olaf Stapledon style pages and the world is dying. Mortal men have risen and now are nearly fallen, wiped out by nuclear and biological plagues. There is only one city left, Eiledon, kept going by Thjierry Thorvalsdottir, the Technomancer of Eiledon. She lives in a University where she used to be a teacher, floating above the city where the lower orders struggle to survive. Thjierry is served and defended by Unmen, creatures she has evolved up from animals using technology and magic.
Muire and Kasmir, still alive, get involved with a fellow called Cathoair who wrestles in a bar and does a bit of whoring on the side. Both Muire and the Grey Wolf are after him because he has the soul of Strifbjorn, though he doesn't know it, who played a key role in the end of the waelcyrge. As the plot slowly unfolds, they meet with Selene, a cat-like creature who serves the Technomancer, and Cristokos, an evolved rat who is also a scientist-magician. Kasimir found him and they live in a lush valley together. The Grey Wolf can appear and disappear at will by stepping into an alternative freezing dimension, sometimes taking his prey there for a cryptic chat.
The characters are well-realised and interesting, especially Muire and Kasimir and the bond between them. The setting is futuristic, fantastic, dangerous and interesting. The writing is a bit choppy in places but certainly conveys the strong emotions and complexity of the lead players. What it fails to convey is the plot or rather it conveys the events but they make no sense.
Frankly, the whole thing is very confusing and made my head hurt. It was hard to read because while it was sometimes clear what was going on, it wasn't ever clear why. About half-way through, I thought I had it straight and followed the story with interest to its gripping conclusion. I read the last page and wasn't sure what had happened. I read the last chapter over again and still didn't know.
A writer does not have to spell out everything but this level of ambiguity was too much for me. I have enjoyed a previous book by Elizabeth Bear, who has won several awards and is by any reckoning a good writer. I had hoped to like this one. I didn't. It was difficult, confusing and ultimately unsatisfactory. Smarter readers than me might make sense of it and enjoy it. I wish them luck.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA