‘Alyysa’s Ring’ is the fifth and final book in ‘The Guardian Cycle’ by Julia Gray, following ‘The Dark Moon’, ‘The Jasper Forest’, ‘The Crystal Desert’ and ‘The Red Glacier’.
In ‘The Dark Moon’, the hero, Terrel, was exiled from his home after discovering he is the twin of the imperial prince Jax and has royal blood. Whereas Jax is revered as the prophesised guardian of the world, Terrel is outcast because of his crippled body. After discovering he is a healer, Terrel sets out into the world of Nydus in accordance with the prophecy. Over the first four books, Terrel has travelled the world encountering various cultures and the elementals, spiritual beings that are tied up with the prophecy of the end of the world. Now in this book, Terrel is returning to fulfil the final part of the prophecy and bring to close the prophesised cycle.
Nydus is described in ‘The Guardian Cycle’ as a fantasy setting with an approximately medieval level of development. It lacks non-human races common to the Tolkien tradition, but the variety comes from the range of cultures and beliefs that Terrel encounters in his journey. Nydus has four moons and most of civilisation is heavily influenced by astrology featuring these. Magic is never referred to, but many folk demonstrate strange and unusual powers, such as Terrel’s healing, which involves `falling into the patient’s dream’ to discover the cause of a malady and settle it.
Initially, I found that Gray writes in a pedestrian fashion. The writing is professional, but lacked flair. However, I soon happily discovered that the joy in Gray’s books comes from the interplay between the characters, as each seems very well-portrayed, possessing depth and spirit. It is the verbal sparring and growth of emotion between them that entertains the reader. It brought to mind the writing of David Eddings. As with the ‘The Belgariad’, the underlying story can be quite simple if you have flair for creating enjoyable characters. Gray isn’t quite up to the blockbuster skill that Eddings possessed, but she is heading in that direction, which is no bad thing.
This book feels like a satisfying conclusion to the series. It wraps up all the loose ends and provides resolution for all the plotlines. At least, this reviewer assumes it does, for I have to confess that I haven’t read any of the first four volumes. It must come as some accolade to Gray’s writing that this did not diminish my enjoyment. I quickly picked up what was going on and only rarely felt I had missed something critical to the understanding of this volume. But ‘Alyssa’s Ring’ has that crucial and often overlooked quality in fiction in that it is basically very good fun. In fact, it was such good fun to read that the minor criticisms hardly seem to matter.
Having enjoyed this final volume, I am going to seek out the first four. If Gray can make the last 570 pages this enjoyable, then clearly the first 2,000-ish ought to be worth a look!
I think this volume is quite appropriate for any fantasy fan. It lacks all but the mildest adult content, so would be fine for a young adult. This reviewer is just the wrong side of 40 and I found it delightful as well. If you have ever enjoyed Eddings or character-driven fantasy as opposed to setting or plot, then this comes well recommended. Basically, good fun for anyone. Enjoy!
(pub: Orbit. 570 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK) and $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 1-84149-146-2)
check out website: www.orbitbooks.net