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Map’s Edge (The Tethered Citadel series book 1) by David Hair (book review).

October 19, 2020 | By | Reply More

In ‘Map’s Edge’ by David Hair, exiled Octravian sorcerer Raythe Vyre has had a map drop into his lap detailing the location of a mother lode of ‘istariol’, the ‘blood dust’ that fuels powerful acts of sorcery. By excavating this mineral, he hopes to gain enough wealth to liberate his homeland, Otravia, from the Bolgravian Empire’s clutches, but for all his power Raythe can’t do this alone.

With promises of wealth, he recruits the people of the village of Teshveld to his cause, a rag-tag group of exiles tired of living under the Empire’s heel. Together, they travel to a land not on any map, facing monsters from within and without while being pursued by agents of the empire intent on crushing any and all hope of freedom.

I’ve not read any of David Hair’s work before so I can’t tell you if he is working to a tried and tested formula. While some of the fantasy tropes are familiar, ‘Map’s Edge’ reminded me more of a western than a standard fantasy novel. Perhaps it’s the constant references to wagons and caravans and that fact that guns are more prevalent than swords even if they are flintlocks rather than six-shooters. On top of this is the story of a disenfranchised people from many different cultures, all looking for something more. The istariol is their chance, a second chance and something akin to the American dream where normal people can aspire to greatness.

As far as characterisation is concerned, there are a lot of point of view characters, perhaps more than I’ve ever seen in a novel before. The lion’s share of our focus is on Raythe Vyre and Kemara Solus. Raythe Vyre is thirty-six, handsome but appearing older than his years. As the defacto main character, I found it hard to get behind Vyre. He has lost his country, his wife, his wealth and most of his comrades and yet doesn’t appear to be particularly damaged or desperate. He experiences no horror at death or killing, rather he is shamelessly practical and whatever happens he just seems to shrug and move on. To me, he just doesn’t seem human.

Kemara Solus, a late twenties ‘handsome’ redhead, is the expedition’s healer and something more. Initially, she distrusts and dislikes Vyre but, this is where the traditional fantasy tropes come in, as the reader is well aware she will like him in the end and that her secrets and tragic history will give her the most chance to grow and become powerful in her own right. If Vyre is lacklustre, then Kemara gives us more of what the fantasy reader expects, a damaged person who will heal and become complete.

Vyre’s daughter, Zarelda’s story comes next, as she follows her father into sorcery and, at fifteen, finds first love in the form of handsome and sensitive Banno Rhamp and is a subversion of his family and people. As his father, Sir Elgus Rhamp, is Vyre’s principal rival for command of the expedition and his brother, Osvard, is a sexual predator whose advances were spurned by Kemara. The story of Zar and Bonno’s romance goes on to highlight the conflicting attitudes of their two fathers opening up the story and adding some variety. It is the ‘child’ romance as opposed to the more grown-up romance we expect from Vyre and Kemara that doesn’t quite yet materialise.

Other supporting characters have minor development arcs. Jesco Dureto, Vyre’s trusted friend is a handsome gay man who flirts with every man he sees and is ‘non-threatening’ and friendly to Kemara and the scholar turned church sister Mater Varahana. Vidar Vidarsoon, a ‘bearskin’ who can enter a magical clawed berserker state is softened by his unrequited love for Mater. She is herself, a bald and beautiful matriarch to the expedition represents the church but doesn’t actually believe in her God. Rather, she is a frustrated scholar in a world where the Bolgravian Empire view knowledge as both forbidden and dangerous.

There is an awful lot going on here in the four hundred pages and the world-building is impressive in itself, the Bolgravian Empire a plague upon the world, conquering country after country. Their ambition is to make everything like themselves, one language and one culture, one people, the enemies of variety, different points of view and freedom. The magical system created here is also very important, at the crux of most of the action. It is very easy to understand, centring on spirit familiars representing the ordered church sanctioned ‘praxis’ and the chaotic pagan ‘mizra’, the new and old world in conflict.

The story itself is more about overcoming adversity than any deep revelations about humanity. There are problems to be solved and overcome, enemies to fight and people to befriend. The conflict inside the camp is more interesting than what goes on outside. The constant verbal jousting between Elgus and Vyre is entertaining and calculating, never quite reaching the point where they kill each other but simmering nicely. There is also a hidden spy within the camp, a chameleon who appears harmless and yet represents the logical and ruthless view of the empire. Finally, there are the fear and struggles of Kemara who as the healer, cares for people in her own hardened way despite what she has suffered in the past.

All in all I would say ‘The Map’s Edge’ was very easy to read with lots of substance, well realised ideas, action and themes. It leads nicely into a sequel which promises more development of the ancient culture that once ruled the planet, the ruins of which the expedition stumble through in both terror and admiration. My only issues are the sheer amount of character points of view, which are at times overwhelming. I’m also not a fan of the very placid Raythe Vyre, who seems to lack fire despite his chequered history. I would, however, be very interested to see where book 2 takes it and how some of these storylines, themes and characters are developed further.

GD Tinnams

October 2020

(pub: Jo Fletcher Books/Quercus. 406 page enlarged paperback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-52940-193-6)

check out websites: www.jofletcherbooks.com, www.quercusbooks.co.uk and www.davidhairauthor.com

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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