Well, hhhə, this isn’t very good. The even-I-think-he’s-too-prolific-(and-I-know-prolific) Anderson slides a nautical-Fantasy saga down the slipway with this enormous volume, and there it sits, low-in-the-waterline. It’s set in a schematic Fantasy world divided between two tribes— Aiden in the northern hemisphere, Urec in the south, their landmasses linked by an isthmus on which is located a holy city called Ishalem. When this sneezily-named place gets burnt down, it’s War!, War!, and off we go.
As is usual for this manner of slop-chest-novel, there’s pretty everything and anything that the conventions of Fantasy require. There are some swords, and a quantity of sorcery; a dozen or so characters; lots of filler about windlasses and gunwales and lubbers; sea-serpents; beautiful ladies captured by slave-traders; sexy witches; heroic princes; voyages to the edge of the world; a magical compass; a quest for the Golden Fern; episodes of yaddita; incidents of yaddita; and big battles that are all yaddita-yaddita. Everything in this book is taken from somewhere else, Pirates of the Caribbean/Sinbad the Sailor meets George R R Martin or David Eddings. But the real provocation for the phonetically rendered sigh, hhhə, with which this review starts is the poor, poor, poor quality of the writing. This, from early on:
On the Aidest side of the city, the architecture showed familiar Tierran influence, similar to what one might find in any coastal village, while in the Urban District, on the opposite side of the isthmus, the buildings looked alien, with unusual curves and angles, stuccoed rather than timbered, the roofs tiled rather than thatched. [13-14]That’s a terrible sentence. Just terrible. I challenge you to read ‘similar to what one might find’ without thinking ‘the play what I wrote’. But worse, this undisciplined, additive, clause-piled-on-clause comma-orrhea is entirely characteristic of Anderson’s approach to the larger business of putting the novel together. He piles stuff upon stuff, and at the end we’re presented a hardback-bound big pile of stuff. And all of it rendered in dead, humourless, grey prose: describing characters, describing character’s thoughts and motivations, describing actions, everything on the kindergarten level excepting only the violence. Sometimes the prose is baffling (‘the cook’s hemorrhaged eyes were blank’, 175), and sometimes more straightforwardly inept, as in this impossible metaphor: ‘tides pushed and pulled the currents like watery pendulums’ . Or else in this passage, in which the attempt to ratchet-up the tension is undermined by the momentary transformation of the character into Dr Zoidberg with his claws up, scurrying sideways:
[He] counted to a hundred. He still couldn’t be sure he was safe, but he knew he had to go. At last he moved with all the stealth he could manage. Covered with dirt he crab-walked out of the hollow. All of it, all, terribly written. Hhhə.