The North Beyond Part 2: Maesrhon by P.M. Scrayfield (book review).

‘The North Beyond’ is one big novel divided into four books, of which this is the second part. As a result, there is little to guide the reader in the architecture of this fantasy world. Part one was the story of Numirantoro (none of the characters have a familiar diminutive), her childhood and how she was forced into marriage with the politically ambitious Vorynaas. On her death, she left behind two sons, Ghentar and Maesrhon. The latter is largely ignored by Vorynaas, especially as there rumours that he is not Maesrhon’s father.

This world is divided into an agricultural south and an industrial north, the two countries trading with each other for goods the other cannot produce. The whole is surrounded by a barren wilderness where nothing lives or grows. While there has been peace between the two regions for decades, the greed of Vorynaas sees political change in the north, especially when he strikes gold.

The basis of the story expounds the social set-up between the two countries. The focus is Maesrhon’s life starting with his miserable home-life, ignored by father and picked on by the older brother only relieved by his friendship with the scholar, Arval, and Isteddar, an innkeeper’s son.

When Council reinstates the traditional law of fostering, he and his brother are sent to the same farm their mother spent her fostering years at. When he returns after five years, he has to do his military service. All this is preparing him for the quest that he sets out on right at the end of this volume. This is not a spoiler as it is author P.M. Scrayfield’s intention that the four books are regarded as a whole.

Generally, the writing is competent but there are some issues. The setting and particularly the geography of this world are skated over. This is likely to be because more was described in the first volume and if these books were to be read sequentially and close together, the repetition might annoy some readers. Bigger issues are with pace and plot. The pace here is leisurely. Granted, there are scenes where the action is fast and immediate but there are not nearly enough of them.

Every scene should move the plot along or give insights into the way the story is developing and by the interactions of the characters. While Maesrhon is undoubtedly learning skills he will need further down the line, the crucial elements are skipped over. For example, he is chased into the barren lands by a figure that appears dangerously crazy. He leaves behind all his equipment and food. What we don’t see is how he survives and makes it back safely to the foster farm. Later, during military service, we are told, afterwards that he has been into the wild forests of the north where no-one ever goes and has made discoveries about the place which are, apparently, significant.

If we are to follow him on his journey through life, these revelations should be shared with the reader as he makes them.

Although this is Maesrhon’s story, there are a number of other viewpoint characters, including Vorynaas. Admittedly, Maesrhon is out of the country when political changes happen at home but, in this situation, as it is relevant to what happens next, it would have been nice to see some of the political machinations and factional squabbling which lie at the root of the new policy, especially as Vorynaas and his cronies are in the thick of it.

There are interesting ideas within this volume but they are diminished by the linear unfolding of a boy’s childhood. The result is frustrating.

Pauline Morgan

August 2019

(pub: Pen Press Publication, Brighton, 2016. 359 page paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78003-490-4)

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