A Series Ian Likes: The Book Of Years by Peter Morwood (Part 4)

And now we come to the (allegedly) final volume in this terrific series by Peter Morwood. Aldric Talvalin, reunited with his lost love Kyrin, is now roaming the Drusalan Empire looking for a way to fulfil his oath to his foster father Gemmel: he must restore to him a “jewel” that he needs for science-fictional reasons that don’t fit too badly into this historically-hardboiled fantasy setting. However, things are about to go a bit pear-shaped for the young lord as back home in Alba, his king, Rynert Crookback, has just announced a warrant for his death and sent some assassins after him, inconveniently dying before he can be made to rescind the order. Gemmel has to do some fancy footwork in order to put the kingdom of Alba to rights before he can go and save Aldric.

Although, not unpredictably, Aldric doesn’t appear to need too much help to look after himself. After fending an attack off he and Kyrin decide to head off to the nearest big city and enjoy themselves. But Lord Commander Voord, recently shamed and defeated by Aldric in The Dragon Lord, has some other ideas…

This is probably the most complicated novel in the series: for one thing, less time is spent with Aldric than in any of the books thus far, with the situation in Alba taking up a large portion of the tale as well as Voord’s machinations taking their time to unfold and have their implications sink in. It’s also an interesting character study more than a heroic fantasy, too: Voord tries his hardest to torture Aldric and Kyrin using his knowledge of their personalities and histories and we learn more about the world he grew up in as well. And while a lot of it feels shoehorned into the story for plot purposes rather than believability (an incident from Aldric’s past that he’s never referenced before, even though it does explain a lot about why he is like he is, just feels a little too convenient to the plot no matter how realistically it is written), it’s to the credit of Mr Morwood that it doesn’t seem too far-fetched that Voord is capable of what he does: Voord’s character has unwrapped its layers like a particularly pungent onion over the last few books and his depths of ruthlessness and single-mindedness no longer surprise though they may still shock.

The setting is also an unpleasant surprise, but in a good way: I’ve mentioned before how this series was influenced by the (then-current) Cold War and the literature engendered by that conflict. Here we see it come to a natural conclusion with the portrayal of the cold equations at the heart of the Drusalan Empire and the casual violence and terror it inflicts upon its citizens. The lack of action in this novel works brilliantly to reinforce this as well, because you are lulled into enjoying the “vacation” that Aldric and Kyrin have called for themselves before it all starts to go horribly, brutally wrong for them, leading to that ending…

… Ah yes, the ending. While you can argue that it is final, it also lends itself to the possibility of a fifth book – a book that Mr Morwood has been teasing us with for more than thirty years (with a “tentative” sixth volume recently being hinted at as well!) But even so, it’s an ending that still has the power to move you, leaving you wanting more… if only it were currently available.

You can find out more about Peter Morwood at https://petermorwood.tumblr.com/

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