Crusade (Book Three Of The Aquasilva Trilogy) by Anselm Audley (book review)

There are many fantasy trilogies a reader can reach for any time they fancy a hit of their favourite escapism. But how many readers have gotten bored of the same old sub-Tolkien elves and dwarves routine? What makes a fantasy trilogy or an individual novel worth reaching for? Is it a truly different fantastic setting? Maybe something with a reliably realistic feeling paradigm? Is it just a thrilling and original story or are compelling and interesting characters required? Are we just all searching for something, well, different? Anselm Audley’s ‘Aquasilva Trilogy’ offers all of the above in greater or lesser degrees but is that necessarily a good thing?


This book, ‘Crusade’, is the third volume in Audley’s trilogy. At the beginning, we find the protagonist Cathan sheltering in an academic retreat studying oceanography. This is very appropriate as the maps at the beginning of the book show most of Aquasilva is ocean and the circumference of the world is some 65,397 miles. Obviously, this is much bigger than Earth. The society of Aquasilva is mostly dominated by the Domain which is a religiously fanatic movement dedicated to the element of fire. The Domain is committed to stamping out any heresy, which means anyone not agreeing to their view. Cathan is hiding because he is a water mage and opposed to the Domain’s harsh fanaticism. He is also a member of the Thetian royal family and possibly a heir to the Emperor’s throne and is naturally high on the Domain’s `heretical’ list. The novel opens as Domain Inquisitors arrive at the Oceanographical Retreat which clearly does not bode well for Cathan, as he is taken `in penance’ by the Inquisitors.

Unfortunately, Cathan spends far too long `doing penance’ as a Domain slave. It takes about 100 pages before the story really seems to get going. As is often the case with stories told in first person perspective, the writing can meander about and is, for want of a better term, flabby. Luckily, the book never devolves into excessive introspection. This reviewer would have detested that. Some of the dialogue lacks speaker prompts and so it becomes confusing to follow who is saying what even when disparate religious opinions are being argued. To contrast with these drawbacks, Audley’s characters are vivid and interesting. Cathan, his companions, the antagonists and even minor players are portrayed with no mean skill. They are quickly established with identifiable personalities and evocative character.

It is also worth mentioning the setting. The first endpaper notes that the author is (was) at St. John’s College Oxford reading Ancient and Modern History and this shows itself in his writing. The setting is vibrant with politics and religion and the misuses of both. Audley weaves a complex tapestry with plenty of twists and turns. Indeed, so layered does this get that sometimes, it is hard to follow what is happening and to whom. Nonetheless, this also lends the book a measure of verisimilitude with reality which is also often hard to follow. Either way, Audley shows a good eye for human nature in his writing.

However, as the rear cover notes ‘File under fantasy’. So what fantastica is in ‘Crusade’? Well, we do have magic, although it is sparsely used and referred to. There are no other races (elves, dwarves, etc.), only recognisable humans. This lends it further reality, but we are looking for the fantasy here. Maybe we can find it in the application of technology. There are no hand guns with characters still using knives and swords for personal combat. By contrast, Aquasilva does boast submarines with `aether reactors’ and weapons based on similar technology for ranged submersed combat, as well as siege weapons above ground. This jars a bit. While it is not unreasonable to expect sea-faring technology to progress quicker on a world that is predominantly ocean, advances in this area would be quickly adapted or re-engineered for similar advances in other areas. There are also subtle hints of extinct civilisations that have left behind evidence of much greater technology. The `aether’ technology is never explained, so really feels like magic by another name. It is also interesting that Aquasilva is much larger than Earth, but possesses Earth-like gravity and climate. No explanation is offered to explain how this could be so.

I should also note that I spotted a number of printing or proof-reading mistakes. These and spelling mistakes and occasional word confusion can be spotted multiple times.

I did find enjoyment in reading this book and I was keen to reach the end. Unfortunately and, perhaps realistically, it does not come to a neat conclusion. While much of the preceding plot is resolved events at the end of the book felt much like a prelude to more stories. Possibly even a further trilogy. Interestingly, I note that a sequel ‘Vespera’ has been electronically published in 2007.

It seems hard to determine who the book is targeted at. The book is completely devoid of adult content but boasts complex plotting and religious concepts. ‘Crusade’ is not without its faults but the enjoyment to be had from this book largely outweighs those. It is worth reading if you want a realistic feeling fantasy novel. Strangely, however, this reviewer was left wanting, well, a bit more fantasy. Maybe the presence of elves and dwarves is something we all hanker for after a while.

David Corby

September 2015

(pub: Earthlight/Simon and Schuster, 2003. 449 page enlarged paperback. Price: £10.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-7434-6119-3)

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