The Fylking are powerful, otherworldy beings who use the planet Math as a portal to numerous planes of existence where they battle the mysterious and deadly Niflsekt. While respected and feared among the people of Math, the Fylking are also distant and abstract, and the novel creates a wondrous sense of human beings battered by unknown forces beyond their comprehension, playing out their own conflicts with a disturbing yet fully accepted belief that godlike beings always have the final say and may be manipulating humans to their own ends.
Book One focuses on three excellently drawn main characters, who anchor and make concrete the novel’s world-building: Arcmael, a warden tasked with being an intermediary between humans of Math and the Fylking; Melisande, a knitter who begins to understand that the “pattern sense” she weaves is actually ancient magic with more power than she ever suspected; and Othin, Melisande’s lover, a warrior and King’s ranger who becomes a renegade to escape a dreary political marriage with his boss’s manipulative daughter.
Constantly encountering serious trouble against the background of coming war, each of these characters has limitations and powers which they must face up to during their adventures. These aren’t just stereotypical fantasy characters or superheroes who always know exactly what to do. Their past defines them but they are open to vast future change. They learn about themselves and discover new strengths even as conflicts erupt many levels above their understanding. The three are multi-layered personalities, products of their culture, subject to its traditions and with their own psychic shadows.
The novel has a sensuous, visceral, you-are-there feel. The settings and plot are well-wrought but never overdone. As you suffuse yourself in the complex characters, the background of the coming of war and the history of Fylking involvement on this planet unfold effortlessly. The bad characters are also very real, again not overdone, acting from ambition and power impulses not so different from what we encounter in real life, so that when they oppose our main characters, their actions are all ring true.
I have no idea what lies in store for the second book, but the thoroughly satisfying ending does beg for more investigation of the Fylking. There is an epic structural sense about this series already apparent in Book One. The Fylking have been demonstrated to be central to this book, but in many ways they’ve been backstage during the narrative; thus we look forward to further revelations in Book Two, and we sense it won’t be a mere sequel, that the author has much more to unfold about this intriguing planet and its uncanny gateways to other worlds.
Review by Michael D. Smith