Combining the issue of metaphysical imbalance within society and parody of parody, Wilkerson creates an epic-scale narrative about the cyclic conflict between cosmic forces without inspiring a sense of futility.
Note: This review is based on a review copy received from the author so assumes any formatting issues have been fixed in the retail version.
This novel is the third in the Journey to Chaos series. Caught in a mana storm, Eric Watley was transformed into an unthinking monster. However, an experimental procedure restores at least the beginnings of sanity. With the human nations of the world about to meet to agree a response to mana-induced mutation, researchers and politicians rush to call him both evidence of a cure and proof of its impossibility. Between those who want to use the issue of mana mutation for their own ends and old enemies returning at the worst possible moment, only one thing is certain: Eric won’t have a quiet moment to get his head on straight, or even work out which head is the “real” one.
One of the immediately noticeable aspects of this novel is its world. From the opening scene in a research laboratory to the energy drinks and phones that crop up throughout, the setting resembles a world where magic rather than mechanisms drove progress from the medieval period onwards. Characters use magical spears and bows rather than pistols and rifles, but also use viewing devices equivalent to modern-day televisions and monitors in function and ubiquity. Depending on the reader’s preference, this will either seem an engaging change from the C13th-society-with-fireballs-and-orcs common to Western fantasy or a jarring collision of genre tropes and modern concepts.
Wilkerson’s use of humour is also likely to divide readers. Some moments, such as the patron deity of idiocy not responding to a threat because he was distracted by bacon are likely to strike all readers as a gentle parody of those fantasy gods who strongly embody a concept; however, a character transforming into a swallow as knowing reference to Monty Python might well be a deconstruction of the fourth wall too far for many.
Similarly, the puerile sense of humour displayed by trickster deities and their acolytes: the fart jokes, water-balloons, and such create a sense of irreverence; but also act as interjections to the plot, so might begin to grate on readers who prefer observational comedy to stand-up.
However, the magic-powered modernity and layers of irreverence are only part of the world. Beneath the absurdity are the deeper questions of fantasy philosophy: whether there is a moral difference between killing your own race and killing monsters; whether the protection from external assault that Order brings is worth the lack of freedom it brings; whether the individuality that Chaos allows is worth the risk of being transformed randomly. It is this genuine exploration of the sentient condition that makes this novel more than a self-aware comical fantasy.
Eric makes an interesting protagonist. His mutation into a monster has given him new abilities, but also the simple kill-threat/eat-food drives of a beast. The treatment has restored self-awareness, but his perceptions are still those of a monster, making that awareness potentially merely the opportunity to eat strangers by choice rather than on instinct.
As befits a book created from the mixture of pastiche and conceptual conflict, many of the supporting cast are similarly strongly defined by a single thing; whether their lineage, their religion, or their job. However – save for bit-parts such as passers-by and guards – none are solely one thing.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. I recommend it to readers seeking epic fantasy that doesn’t take itself seriously.
I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.