By Gav Thorpe
The most tragic tale from the Time of Legends tells of the fall of the greatest houses of the elves and the fates of three kings: Pheonix, Witch and Shadow.
There was once a time when all was order, now so distant that no mortal creature can remember it. Since time immemorial the elves have dwelt upon the isle of Ulthuan. Here they learnt the secrets of magic from their creators, the mysterious Old Ones. Under the rule of the Everqueen they dwelt upon their idyllic island unblemished by woe.
When the coming of Chaos destroyed the civilisation of the Old Ones, the elves were left without defence. Daemons of the Chaos Gods ravaged Ulthuan and terrorised the elves. From the darkness of this torment rose Aenarion, the first of the Phoenix Kings, the Defender.
Aenarion’s life was one of war and strife, yet through the sacrifice of Aenerion and his allies, the demons were defeated and the elves were saved. In his wake the elves prospered for an age, but all their grand endeavours were to be for naught. The warrior-people of Nagarythe found little solace in peace and in time would turn upon each other and their fellow elves.
Where once there was harmony, there came discord. Where once peace had prevailed, now came bitter war.
Heed now the tale of the Sundering.
The Sundering joins together the three books Malekith, Shadow King and Caledor along two short stories that together describe that historic, cataclysmic event - the sundering of the Elves. Set during the time of legends and long before mankind made their mark on the olde world.
It all begins with the elven prince Malekith, the son of the Phoenix King who became the saviour of his race by closing the gateway to the chaos horde. Malekith SHOULD have been the choice to follow in his fathers footsteps and become the next Phoenix King. He IS destined to become the lynch-pin that starts a conflict that will divide the race of Elves forever.
There is a really powerful feeling of the epic within these pages, a granduer that speaks of legendary events and momentous times. The author manages to capture the feeling of "a time of legends" perfectly with wonderfully rich and engaging narrative that is almost poetic in places. This is combined with a rich, an iambic narrative style that is projected from a confident voice. The author manages to capture the sheer alien-ness of the long lived Elven race and yet still holds enough humanity, enough of a sense that allows you to relate and bond with the protagonists and prevent a feeling of aloofness.
While a great deal of Warhammer fantasy is very much a black and white world replete with clearly delineated characters of good or evil, Gav Thorpe writes instead in subtle shades of grey. Never has the road to hell had such a gradual slope than the descent of Malekith and even though you know he's getting a bit out of hand you still find yourself rooting for him, much more than you would most antagonists. Through most of the first book Malekith is very much the protagonist - the hero of the piece (as much as any of them are) and you can relate to many of the decisions he makes and the path he inevitably chooses. As a result you become much closer to him than you would otherwise and it's a tribute to the talent of the author that he manages this feat.
The Shadow King is a story that runs parallel to the events of Malekith and tells of the young prince of Nagarythe Alith Anar who goes on a rampage of vengeance after his whole family is mercilessly slain and in doing so becomes embroiled in war against a whole nation. Ulthuan is already embroiled in a bitter civil war as the Princes fight against their Dark Elf brethren. As they take the fight into the open, Alith begins striking with deadly precision from the shadows, he becomes known as the Shadow King.
Many of the events that happen in Malekith are told again here, from a different perspective and this does work much better than I would have expected. It doesn't feel like treading over old ground and is a genuinely different view of those events. We don't start right at the beginning again either and much of the later novel is new ground.
Gav Thorpe really builds on the character of Alith before he becomes the Shadow King and as with Malekith it means the reader forms a really close bond and can sympathize when things go wrong, again these people are all clothed in shades of grey although the Dark Elves who become the focus of Alith's rage do lean towards the darker end of the spectrum as do many of the Shadow Kings warriors, free as they are to kill at will and carry out evil acts. There are some truly spectacular battles and the use of guerrilla warfare is simply inspired.
The ending of the book is quite a shocker too and an incredibly strong hook to get the reader started on the final novel, Calendor.
It has to be said that Calendor is one explosive finale to the series, it's got absolutely everything, including a major part given over to those fearsome creature - the Dragon. The Elven civil war reaches a crescendo with some major battles and ultimately the event of the Sundering. Calendor is without a doubt the finest moment in the Omnibus, it has everything - brilliant characters - from both sides of the conflict, incredible, titanic battles and of course as mentioned - dragons.
Now these mighty creatures aren't described as mere animals or as indestructible gods but somewhere in between. There is a clear sense of the immortal, noble soul but coupled with the wilder, savage side of the beast. These creatures hold just as much character as the Elves themselves and it's great to see them portrayed so well by Thorpe - they make some of the battles pretty interesting too.
I loved how the novel moves between the perspectives of the High Elves and the Dark, not only does this enhance an already epic story but it also highlights the vast differences between the two sides and it's incredible to think that at the start of this book they were the same people.
The Sundering is a grand tale on a truly epic scale, in fact it defines that term - vast in scope and yet ultimately driven by those few rich characters. An incredibly rewarding fantasy that should be enjoyed by as many people as possible.
Written on 26th October 2012 by Ant .