The Broken Isles review

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Broken Isles is the fourth and final book in the Legends of the Red Sun series by UK writer Mark Charan Newton.  The series started in 2009 with the impressive debut Nights of Villjamur and was followed by the best book in the series in my opinion, City of Ruin and then by The Book of Transformation. Since Mark has now released Drakenfeld, a new series in a completely different setting, I couldn't possibly pick it up without finishing this great sequence first (moreover, it's already more than a year old)!
War spills into the Boreal Archipelago, as two rival cultures bring their eternal battle into this adjacent realm. Fresh from a military victory, Commander Brynd Lathraea plans to rebuild the city of Villiren, where he is confronted with a dilemma. There are friendly forces who have no other choice but to live alongside his own people, and their numbers will be required to fight in the looming conflict. The commander turns politician as he seeks to build bridges and embrace mysterious new technologies to further his ambitions. However, many in Villiren are sceptical of aliens coming to their city, tensions run high, and even the dream of a peaceful future brings with it inevitable clashes of beliefs. Meanwhile, Villjamur has been destroyed. A vast swathe of refugees from the legendary city are now on the run from an immense alien presence in the sky. Villages are being cleared and people are dying en masse. And Inquisitor Fulcrom finds himself at the helm of an operation to aid the refugee exodus to the coast, but it's a race against time before this threatened genocide is complete. Ancient civilisations line up on the field of battle. Exotic creatures and a possible god walk alongside citizens of the Empire. As the Legends of the Red Sun series draws to a close, there will be one final and immense conflict to decide the fate of multiple cultures forever.
The Broken Isles picks up the storylines from both The Book of Transformation and City of Ruin and makes them culminate, first into a rotation of points of view with Fulcrom fleeing from the sky city and Brynd making his best at creating a post war civilization and then into a glorious but straightforward campaign against the invaders. Undoubtedly, the major part of the story can be summarized as Brynd's show.  Aside from the two Rumel investigators, he was always a favorite of mine and seeing him take the whole remnants of the Empire, the inhabitants of Villiren and the faction helping them from another world and bringing them together to save the world was inspiring. That character was compelling to the end but his personal life was mostly ignored in this last opus.

Strangely, even if Newton's writing skills are now more than accomplished, the creative and overall effort injected into the book seems less dedicated than in the first three books.  I even have a vague feeling of having experienced the same kind of consideration in The Book of Transformation but it was less significant. On the positive side, this is the true ending of a series and closure is given to almost everyone protagonist of note. Sadly, it feels rushed more often than not, mostly for Fulcrom and Lan or Randur and Eir's storylines, which dissipate into the background of the 'save the world' main thread.

Meanwhile, in the forsaken city of Villiren, a new point of view comes to the fore with the appearance of Jeza, a young cultist with new ideas to help the military in the protection or fight against the Okun and their masters.  She's given enough development to make her interactions with the more familiar characters interesting to follow but ultimately, she's a mean to an end, allowing both Brynd and his nemesis in Villiren, Malum, to put their hands on much gear or uncanny beasts. She fills the cultist role with brio.

When everything is in place and the short detective work is done, a simplistic climax occurs.  It results in a fight kind of reminiscent of the attack on the Death Star in A New Hope.  However, you have to add to the fray a godlike being.  That part was tricky.  What do you make of a character like Frater Mercury?  He was introduced in the last book but his role, or lack of according to his own desire, is clearer. Newton handled him well enough in the circumstances but I hoped for a while that a second nature or a revelation would come up, changing the significance of all that has happened, but it was not the case.

Looking back at the previous novels in the series, I felt that The Broken Isles explored less issues or topics. In the manner we have come to expect of the author on the basis of his previous books and the subjects tackled like transsexualism, superhero lore, racism, corrupted politicians, relationships or religion, I expected more imaginative observations of our society. However, it still feels incredible that he was able to continue his immersion into creative weirdness without making it look absurd, even if the level of new weird reached in The Broken Isles is lower.

As such, in a foreword, Newton mentions that China Mieville proposed to draw for him a weird specimen that the author had to include in his story.  The Mourning Wasp is a really cool beast that ended up as a fitting creation in The Legend of the Red Sun setting. I would have preferred to be left in the dark until the end of the book since raising the awareness of that challenge made me focus on the source of idea instead of keeping me absorbed on the story (but that's really a small detail). Anyway, it was a successful challenge and maybe the weird elements weren't less present but I simply grew used to Newton's creations and environment.

Speaking of environment, the fabulous atmosphere created in Nights of Villjamur still envelops the world creating a bleak and gloomy ambiance.  By this fourth book, it looked like a given but remains a nice trademark for Newton's series.

There you have it. For me, the culmination of the Legends of the Red Sun was kind of a disappointment.  I loved the previous books and still love Newton's writing but this last piece leaves me with a feeling of underachievement. I have very good memories of the previous books and will pick up Drakenfeld without question.

Technically, I really don't like the cover, mostly for the skull under the hood, a classic hooded guy would have been better. The hardcover edition of the book stands at 400 pages and no maps are included.

The Broken Iles review rating :

World building
Magic system 

Overall (not an average)


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