Reviews of 'The Messenger'
Reviews of 'The Messenger'
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This is book one of the Icewall trilogy by a very good author. I've liked the majority of Niles' work and this one is no exception. Doug delves into the far south of Ansalon, to the cold, hard lands of Icewall. It appears to be around 2000 PC and ogres rule the tundra. The story follows the Inuit type tribe of the Artkos as well as the Highlanders. Toss in an exiled Silvanesti elf and a kender, and you have the makings of a great story.
Moreen is the very young chieftess of the Artkos, a band of nomadic people living on the shores of the sea. Their tribe is faced with near extinction after the men have been slaughtered by ogres, but Moreen follows the visions given to her by the tribe shaman. They travel to the north, hoping to find their ancient fortress, picking up other Artkos stragglers along the way. A run in with the Highlanders, tribes of humans similar to the Artkos except city dwellers, puts Moreen at odds with the chief, a man who attempts to force her to marry him. Eventually, the two tribes find a peaceful alliance and the Artkos establish themselves at Brakenrock. But the ogres aren't done with the humans. In an attempt to conquer all of Icereach, the ogres wage war, pushed into it by the ogre priestess of Gonnas.
There were several parts of this book that I found interesting.
First off, the story jumped around between each chapter. Three separate storylines are built up, which eventually meet towards the middle/end. You have the main characters, the Artkos tribe, led by Moreen, and the story of their travel to Brackenrock. The second story is that of a Silvanesti elf Kerrick, a sailor, living happily in the city of Silvanost. Through his own actions, he finds himself exiled from the city and set adrift. A mysterious appearing/disappearing kender winds up his passenger and they find themselves landing on the tundra. The elf eventually is captured by the Artkos, who force him to ferry them across the strait. Eventually, the tribe befriends the elf and he helps them survive. The other storyline that is followed closely is surprisingly that of the ogres. Grimwar Bane, a prince of the ogre realm Suderland, is the one heading the raids against the humans of the tundra. Married to the priestess of Gonnas, his story is told very in-depth, from his desire to eradicate the humans, become the king of the realm, and take back the love of his life, the ogress Thraiad, now his father's second wife. I found it very unique to have the story of the main villains followed in as much depth as the lead characters.
The second fascinating part of the book was giving Grimwar the un-ogrish emotion of love towards Thraiad. Even her physical description is far different from that of normal ogres, as she's described as smaller, with a narrow waist, pale skinned, with long beautiful hair. She's quite the opposite of Grimwar's brute of a wife.
The third interesting feature of this story is that of the mysterious kender Coraltop. He only appears on Kerrick's boat when no one else is around. At times the elf doubts the kender even exists as no one else has ever seen him. I hope that the mystery of this kender is answered by the end of the third book.
Overall, a great story. Hopefully the next two stand up to this one.
Review made May 3rd, 2003.
Before I get started on the book itself, let me comment briefly on the cover. I really liked this new design; it seems a lot less "I'm a Fantasy Novel; Buy Me!" than some of the more recent books. The title doesn't take up a lot of space and the font looks very nice. As well, Brom's picture of Kerrick Fallabrine (the title character) appears less cartoony than previous releases, which is a good approach for a series that is supposed to be gauged more towards the 16-20-something demographic than anything else. Good job!
Now, the book itself. Douglas Niles, as I mentioned, is a long time member of the Dragonlance team and has written more books for the series than any other author or author team, I think, save for Margaret Weis. Just about all of Doug's books have been excellent, with a couple mediocre ones and one, that, in my opinion, was horrible (The Last Thane). Add to this number his numerous releases in Forgotten Realms and Niles just may be TSR/Wizards of the Coast's most prolific author. But I digress.
Keeping with the pattern, The Messenger approaches great status. The only reason it doesn't is because, unlike any of Doug's other books, it is the first part of a series. Niles has never written a trilogy before, for Dragonlance at least, and his only other work that comes close is The Kinslayer Wars, a great novel and volume 2 of the wonderful Elven Nations Trilogy. This one reads like part one, although it has a definite plot in and of itself. The characters are well done and the story progresses nicely, told from mostly 3 points of view. Let me do a brief recap.
The book opens with the introduction of what I think is supposed to be the principle character, Moreen Bayguard, daughter of the chieftain of the Arktos people, Redfist. It is the time of a great hunting season in Icereach, but Moreen, despite her skills, is being prohibited from going because she is female. Soon after her father and the hunters shove off, the village is attacked by ogres on a massive ship. The hunters come back to try and help, but the ogres prove to be too much and enslave most of the men whilst Moreen leads the remaining women and children to the Hiding Hole. The only non-ogre in the raiding party, a dwarf, slays Moreen's father with a strange magical poisoned dagger, then the ogres demolish what's left of the village and depart. Tribal shaman Dinekki casts an augury which directs Moreen to lead her people to the ancient citadel of Brackenrock, where they will be safe from the eminent vicious winter storm called the Sturmfrost. Meanwhile, Kerrick Fallabrine, a Silvanesti mariner and created noble is caught having liaisons with an elfmaid above his station. The Speaker, angered by Kerrick's faux-pas, banishes him (but does NOT cast him out as a dark elf), saying he may return if he finds proof of the Land of Gold far to the south that his father went sailing for and never returned from. The elf is magically exiled on his ship, Cutter, and begins a trek for somewhere he can put into port. The third main character, ogre prince Grimwar Bane, is finishing up the destruction of the Bayguard village, looking for signs
of the elven messenger his wife, a fervent priestess of Gonnas the Willful (Sargonnas), prophesied would be the prince's downfall...
There's a lot more to the story, but I'll leave you with that to whet your appetites. Obviously, much of the book is the search for Brackenrock and Kerrick's arrival on Icereach and the prince's continued search for him. Things begin to come to a head at the end of this book, but, again, it is only the first part and one gets the feeling that the prophecy of Grimwar's wife Stariz will not occur for quite some time, as it seems to be the central plot of the trilogy. Let me get into the characters, then, as I am wont to do.
Kerrick Fallabrine is the title character of the novel, but seems to be supplanted as main character by Moreen Bayguard. Nonetheless, I'll do him first. Fallabrine works as an atypical Silvanesti. The son of a mariner, he seems to hold that house's opinions about the larger world outside of Silvanesti. As they spend more time outside the forest, their xenophobic ways towards non-elves are nigh non-existent. Thus, when Kerrick has to interact with the humans and the kender Coraltop Netfisher (more on him later), his easy-going attitude towards them is more believable than if he was from, say, House Woodshaper. His character works as one who wishes to return to his homeland, but knows he can't until he completes this quest. Thrown in with the Arktos, he becomes almost an honorary member, and becomes caught up with their struggle which is, I believe, the point of the novel. Once his boat is captured in the frozen sea (from the brutal Sturmfrost), he pretty much has no choice but to stay there, although, by this point in the novel, he wants to. Good work with him, but I hope to see some deeper character development in the coming books, especially if he is to become a character on the same level of Niles's Kagonesti and the expanded elves from The Kinslayer Wars. Niles has proven many times that he knows how to write elves, though, so I have faith.
Moreen Bayguard is almost Kitiara-like in her tomboyish nature, but is not the blackguard that Kit became. Moreen's chief concern is for her people throughout this entire book, which makes for some solid character building scenes. Unmarried, she is the object of affection for king Strongwind Whalebone, a supporting character who comes in about halfway through and becomes important near the end, but seems to be developing some kind of feelings for Kerrick. It's not love at first sight, or anything, but one gets the feeling that Niles may be leaning towards a relationship between the two later on, whether it be good or bad. Anywho, Moreen, as I've said, is the primary character of the novel and, as such, is the strongest of the three, given several good scenes with friends Bruni and Tildey, her encounters with Whalebone, and her scenes with Kerrick. I'm looking forward to what happens to her in the next book.
Grimwar Bane, the ogre prince (later, king) is one of many ogres that inhabit the massive mountain palace of Winterheim. The ogres release the Sturmfrost from the confines of the Icewall yearly, an interesting idea and one that perhaps foreshadows just how one elf could prove to be their undoing (read the book). While not the pre-Irda ogres, Bane and his ilk are far from the brutes we know today. Instead, they seem to be like Mischta (from Otherlands), caught halfway in between (the ogres fell, we know that, but perhaps the fall took longer for the more out of the way kingdoms; its an idea I like). The history of his people is central the early part of his storyline, so I won't get into it hear other than to say it looks good. Bane is an ogre torn between his lust for the king's wife Thraid, his obligation to his fearsome cleric wife Stariz, his anger towards his father Grimtruth, and his ideas about just what he HAS to do with his life. The character, as a villain, is done well and, since both he and Stariz will be in the next book, it looks like he could most certainly become a force to reckon with. His fate is ultimately sealed, I suppose, but getting there is half the fun. As a villain, I like him, but one can also sympathize with him, which makes him even stronger as a character.
There are a few other characters, some of whom I mentioned above: Bruni,
Tildey (who doesn't survive the book), Little Mouse, Dinekki, Baldruk
Dinmaker (the dwarf, also seems to die), Thraid, Grimtruth (Grimwar's
king now; you figure it out), Stariz, Whalebone, Lars Redbeard (who looks
as though he may be important later on), Mad Randall, and Coraltop
Netfisher were the most important ones. Netfisher, Kerrick's kender
companion he finds on the open ocean in the early stages of the novel
(riding a dragon turtle!), is the enigma of this novel. I have a theory as to who he may really be (he pulls a disappearing act many times, like a certain wizard we all know and love), but will wait to voice it. Suffice it to say his surname may give it away.
So, to recap, The Messenger is a good book, slow in the beginning, but an obvious part one, which is good. The descriptions of the various places in Icereach and its climate are wonderful, as is the flavor Niles brings it (an almost Scandinavian flavor, which is what I've always pictured Icereach to be like). I'm really looking forward to the next one.
I like the cover, it is a poignant piece by Brom, returning after many years to Dragonlance art. The cover design, even though I think it obscures too much of the painting, is tasteful and evocative as well, as is the patterns inside the book.
The book does not deliver what the cover promises. I expected it to be a personal, character-driven Odyssey centered on a dark elf's journey, and wondered whether Doug Niles could pull such a thing off, he is more a man of action. As it turned out, the elf, Kerrick, wasn't even the most important character in the book. The book was mostly about the conflicts between the peoples living around the White Bear Sea, a huge bay located south of Ansalon, on what seems to be the northern part of a continent that is mostly obscured by a glacier, Krynn's Antarctica. The great ogre kingdom of Winterheim, the Arktos, the Highlanders and the thanoi are cultures we get to know well, as the book provides us with the point of view of all of them. Ogres kill and enslave the eskimoesque peoples living around the White Bear Sea, and after all fighting men in the tribe are killed, the chieftain's daughter Moreen has to lead her people, now consisting of children, the
elderly and women, in search of safety, with the legends of Blackenrock, a castle humans abandoned during the Third Dragon War, as her guide. She and the tribe become involved with the Highlanders, a viking-esque people living inland and clearly the cultural ancestors of the Ice Folk in DL6 Dragons of Ice, but there is a conflict of interests. In addition, the Arktos are targeted by the ogres, who fear a prophecy of their downfall, a prophecy which involves an elf.
Like I said, we get the point of view from all of these peoples, including the thanoi to a lesser degree. There are also conflicts within these peoples, the ogres in particular, which are interesting. Multiple points of view along with the more complicated conflict patterns keep the book from becoming a black and white conflict. However, it is clear that Moreen is the hero in this, and the person we are supposed to cheer for. She is clearly the main character in this book, and the character I found most interesting. The elf, Kerrick, doesn't seem to have much impact on the plot, except helping the Arktos at one crucial point, but I expect him to be more integrated in future books. The plot doesn't provide any shocking twists and revelations, but neither is it formulaic and totally predictable. After a mediocre first half the plot thickens and the book picks up.
But, and a big but, the book had some annoyances. I thought the ogre empire was a bit too sophisticated at first, but I came to accept it as I read the book and got used to it. Many would react negatively to the kender Coraltop Netfisher, but he is more than he seems, not just your average kender side-kick. But Doug Niles is terrible with names. Not only has he given last names to dwarves in several of his books about dwarves, but some silly names as well (Pounce Quickspring for a Theiwar, dark dwarf, thane comes to mind.) Here, he manages to give last names to gods. And not just any last names, but silly last names as well. Kerrick refers to his goddess (who is neutral, unsuitable for a Silvanesti elf) as Zivilyn Greentree, even though DL5 and Tales of the Lance says the elven name for Zivilyn is the Tree of Life. The Arktos calls their goddess Chislev Wilder. That is a terrible last name, and does not provide any cultural flavor at all. Chislev, and just Chislev, should be enough. However, I loved that there were clerics of the gods Chislev and Sargonnas in this book, and they were portrayed in the way that clerics would be according to their cultures, in this case shamans. They could have been more shaman-like, though, a shaman of Chislev casting spells with citing rhymes is not particularly shaman-esque, but silly. Shamans should be intriguing, humming and sinister, that side of them could and should have been captured more. Also, shamans, like all clerics in all times, should have holy medallions with the symbol of their god. It never says they didn't have, but I thought about it as the two shamans of the Arktos and the Highlanders cooperated on a spell.
The book is a worthwhile piece of brain candy, it explores new areas with a good degree of Dragonlancyness, and particularly during the last half I was very entertained, forgetting that today is the day I will crack open Dragons of a Lost Star.
Review made Tusday April 17th, 2001 on the alt.fan.dragonlance newsgroup.
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