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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"The Map of All Things" by Kevin J. Anderson (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Kevin J. Anderson Website
Order "The Map of all Things" HERE
Read FBC Review of The Edge of the World
Read FBC Review of Enemies and Allies

INTRODUCTION: In the December 2009 post about my 2010 Anticipated books I said the following about "The Map of all Things":

"If you want a complex series with multiple happenings, lots of plot threads and "swords and sail-ships" as sense of wonder, Terra Incognita is for you. Written in the author's clear prose I enjoyed a lot the series debut The Edge of the World (FBC dual review with Cindy) and I am looking forward to read more about the fate of its many characters."

I started "The Map of all Things" the moment I got it and it picked up where "The Edge of the World" ended. I provided a lengthy overview of the setting and main characters in the review linked above but for newcomers to the series, its basics facts are as follow:

There is the legend of the world creator Ondun and his three sons, of whom Aiden and Urec set across the seas in great arkships and supposedly settled the two known continents of the present, Tierra and Uraba which are separated by a narrow isthmus of land; there has been a centuries long conflict between the Aidenists of Tierra and the Urabans that follow Urec's teachings, conflict that seemed just to be settled by a treaty, when it actually flared into the nastiest war ever between the two people due to a set of unfortunate circumstances and the logic of escalation; there are also neutral map-makers and scientists/philosophers called Saedrans who are supposedly the surviving remnants of Joron's people, the third son of Ondun who remained in the ancestral continent of Terravitae now assumed submerged under the sea.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "The Map of all Things" stands at about 580 pages of the story divided into 125 chapters named by their respective setting. In the author's tradition from The Seven Suns saga, the book starts with an 11 page "Story so Far" summary of "The Edge of the World" and a map, though I have to say I remembered the first book so well I did not use the refresher. At the end there is a Glossary, an author's note about music created specifically to accompany the two novels in the series and an extract from The Key to Creation, the book three of the trilogy.

Soldan-shah Omra of Uraba, Imir his father and retired Soldan-shah now adventuring across the desert, when not enjoying his quiet life, Saan, Omra's stepson of Tierran parentage, Istar, Omra's main wife, mother of Saan and of two princesses with Omra, princess Anjine heir and de facto ruler of Tierra, Mateo her childhood friend and superior officer in the Aidenist army, Criston Vora former sailor, hermit and now ship captain, prester Hannes fanatic Aidenist clergy, terrorist in Uraba and escapee from Uraban mines lead a huge cast of characters in several threads that intertwine, all of course within the background of the terrible and continually escalating war between the Aidenists and the Urabans.

The ending is on moderate cliffhangers in some threads and on a big one in one of them but the heft of the book makes it quite acceptable since a lot happens between its covers. The Map of all Things is "swords and sail ships" epic fantasy.

ANALYSIS: While I liked The Edge of the World quite a lot, The Map of all Things is even better despite its transitional middle volume character for three reasons:

1: The action is more compact in time and the character set is the same - at least the surviving ones since the author does not shy in killing characters - while under the pressures of total war new radical technologies develop so the world of the series expands materially quite a lot.

2: The Map of all Things is even darker and *more realistic* at least as politics go and we see the full impact of fanaticism, as well as how otherwise reasonable people can be caught in a spiral of atrocities on both sides and do horrible things; so the Urabans use the ra-virs to break an Aidenist attack by assassinating the army commanders, the Aidenists massacre hundreds of prisoners of war and throw their heads into the Uraban camp and so it goes with atrocity topping atrocity on both sides; the other threads that do not involve the war have their own darker sides too.

3. There is a lot of exploration, sense of wonder and finally we have quite a few voyages of discovery going on, as well as considerably more magic and strange creatures of the seas and deserts than before. So the world of the series expands geographically significantly too.

The clear prose of the author makes the book a fast read despite its length since it's a page turner you do not want to put down. While I saw some of the twists and turns of the book, there were quite a few surprises both with the evolution of some characters as well as with the story itself. We also re-encounter some colorful secondary characters from The Edge of the World in quite interesting roles here. The Map of all Things has everything you want from a fantasy epic - intrigue, land and sea battles, assassinations and assassination attempts, discoveries, magic, strange creatures - as well as sense of wonder that is usually associated more with space opera, but the author managed to transpose that in the "swords and sails" context superbly.

Overall I thought The Map of all Things (A+ from me) a step up in the series taking it to the top level of current secondary world epic offerings, while The Key to Creation trilogy ending novel has the potential to make Terra Incognita a series for the ages and it will feature high on my list of anticipated novels for 2011.


Anonymous said...

A nice review except for the fact that most people seem to overlook Criston Vora's loss and how tragic his character is. You failed to mention, that Criston is also the real husband of Istar/Andrea and the real father of Saan.

While I liked the exploration, atrocities and all that. I really didnt like how unfair the author has been on Criston and how most readers seem to ignore his pain and loss. Criston lost the only wife he loved and who he still sends letters to in a bottle. While Andrea/Istar his wife has fast fallen in love with her current husband Omra.

I mean what kind of justice is it that a man who loves only one woman so strongly, losing his comrades, mother, unborn child everything. How is it fair that Omra can get married 4 times, practice Polygamy has all the love he needs and has all the happiness of a married life. While Criston has been left with a huge hollow in his heart and no one left to fill that gap as Andrea isnt likely to come back to him anymore as she now thinks of Omra as her true husband.

I just dont like the fact that not only the author who has been too harsh on Criston but also the readers seem to ignore Cristons loss. every character has found a measure of peace and contentment in their lives but only Criston has been left to suffer.

Liviu said...

While I agree that this tidbit is not really a spoiler anymore, I still think it's better for the readers to discover the motivations of characters directly, so I try to avoid too much personal detail in reviews and focus more on the world and the characters' place in it.

I think that the series is set for a big meeting between Criston and his son and we will see then what happens

Great comment!

Anonymous said...

Thanks alot for such a quick reply. I really appreciate it.

I just felt very depressed after reading the book because personally I fee; Criston has lost the most out of all the characters in the book. This is made worse by the fact that unlike the other characters, whose loss are quickly replaced by an alternative happiness, Criston has found no such replacement. The sea only called him back because he thought of Andrea, her voice is the one he still hears. I m just pissed that Omra is so lucky, to have everything a man needs.

I reread the first book:Edge of The World after reading this one. While reading I was listeing to the official album for the books by Roswell Six and it made me feel just how unlucky Andrea and Criston has been, almost made me cry. While Istar, has found her peace, Criston receives no respite.

On another note, do you think, Criston and Andrea can ever be together again? I personally think its impossible as it really seems like she jas given up her heart to Omra while Criston just remains as a beautiful distant first love memory. I really am angry how Omra got everything. What do you think about their chances of gettic back togetheer? Realistically speaking I see no chance.

I can already kinda see the ending, Criston and Andrea will meet, she will realize he still loves her after she knows how he kept sending her letters. Criston will realize that Andrea is happy in her present life with Omra and he will tell her that he is happy that she was alive and found her happiness. Then Andrea will tell him, that Criston's true love has always been the sea and not her. In the End Criston will become someone like the TRAVELLER. Its such a cliche' ending and doesnt make me happy at all. I mean atleast make Criston fall in love again or something.

Liviu said...

we will see - this series is supposed to end in three, so next year should bring answers to your questions...

Anonymous said...

I do know its going to come out next year but I was just wanting to know your views. Its fun to discuss, especially with someone ike you who understands the story so well. I really want to talk about the story and its interesting to speculate.

Criston just might perish too as I have a bad feeling about the fanatic Hannes and think he will somehow harm Criston. Also, looking forward to Saan and Criston's reunion and what they will think about it. Who do you think the mysterios guy was that came to meet with Ciarlo? Could he have been the Traveller?

I m only sure of one thing Criston will be the only one without a happy ending or a life-partner.

Liviu said...

I am happy to speculate too, though in my experience authors that twist and turn - and this series has a good bit of this so far - are very hard to predict; I would say that on the personal level Criston and his son is one thing to watch, how they meet as enemies and what happens - they probably should survive both. I am not sure about the Queen and Mateo though, I see one dying

Omra also I see dying in some kind of treachery, while Andrea maybe returning to Criston in an escape after being blamed...

What i do not see in any way is the big picture, how it will fit together in one volume since while we saw some more of the world in #2, we are still only at the relative beginning of exploration

Liviu said...

Re; Omra - or maybe the new explosives and an accident


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