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Thursday, April 25, 2024

The Doors Of Midnight by RR Virdi (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Order The Doors Of Midnight over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's first review of The First Binding
Read Fantasy Book Critic's second review of The First Binding
Watch FBC’s Video Interview with RR Virdi

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: R.R. Virdi is a USA Today Bestselling author, two-time Dragon Award finalist, and a Nebula Award finalist. He is the author of two urban fantasy series, The Grave Report, and The Books of Winter. The author of the LitRPG/portal fantasy series, Monster Slayer Online. And the author of a space western/sci fi series, Shepherd of Light. He has worked in the automotive industry as a mechanic, retail, and in the custom gaming computer world. He is an avid car nut with a special love for American classics.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Some stories are hidden for a reason. All tales have a price. And every debt must be paid.

I killed three men as a child and earned the name Bloodletter. Then I set fire to the fabled Ashram. I've been a bird and robbed a merchant king of a ransom of gold. And I have crossed desert sands and cutthroat alleys to repay my debt.

I’ve stood before the eyes of god, faced his judgement, and cast aside the thousand arrows that came with it. And I have passed through the Doors of Midnight and lived to tell the tale.
I have traded one hundred and one stories with a creature as old as time, and survived with only my cleverness, a candle, and a broken promise.

And most recently of all, I have killed a prince, though the stories say I have killed more than one.

My name is Ari. These are my legends.

And these are my lies.

FORMAT/INFO: The First Binding is 832 pages long divided over one hundred & thirty-four chapters. Narration is in the first-person, via Ari. This is the second volume of the Tales of Tremaine series.

August 13th, 2024 will mark the North American hardback and e-book publication of The First Binding via Tor.  Cover illustration is by Felipe de Barros.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Doors Of Midnight became a must read for me, the moment I finished The First Binding.  RR Virdi has been planning an epic story and I couldn’t wait to see how his sophomore effort would pan out.
Similar to its predecessor, this story is also divided into two time periods. We begin with Ari sitting in a jail being accused of what happened in the TFB climax. The second time period has him back at the ashram, trying to sort out a sort of moratorium on his academic life when he gets called out on a previous debt. I’m being pretty vague over on purpose as revealing more will be spolirific to The First Binding.  From courtly politics to tribal conflicts to mythological mysteries to magical dimensions, The Doors Of Midnight has it all and more.
Where do I even begin with this book, while being a sequel, I can simply say TDOM is The Dark Knight to The First Binding in every department.  From its pacing to the overall plot to the magnificent characterization, on every front, it outshines The First Binding.  As with the first book, characterization is simply top notch in both the time periods. With Ari, the author creates two distinct personas, the wily charmer in the present and the scrappy smartass of the past. Both are diverse in their outlook but yet retain the goodness within their heart. For the experiences of the scrappy youngster have informed & molded the charming storyteller into the dangerous enigma that he is.  The readers get to really see the events that present Ari offhandedly mentions or is asked about. We get to learn how legends are made via these stories and sometimes how the truth is stranger than what becomes the “official legend”.
Ari’s voice be it as a young kid or the older & tired spy is never boring. Quite verbose and often sly, his remarkable voice is what powers this story. This story is presented in first person limited POV in both timelines and here’s where RR Virdi’s characterization shines brilliantly. We learn all about the new people in past Ari’s life as well as the new Etaynian adversaries. Every new (and old) persona that Ari meets is a complete character and the older ones get extra layers added to them.  All in all the characterization is as good (if not better) as found in The First Binding. I missed Eloine’s presence within this volume as she appeared less of a foil (as she was in TFB) and more of a fleeting character who’s frequently missing when things get interesting. I hope we get more of her in the 3rd book as she’s too important a character to sit on the sidelines.  
Another thing which I loved about The First Binding was the rich prose. Herein we get another purple heaping further proving RR Virdi is possibly one of the three best prose-smiths in the epic fantasy genre. Here’s a tiny sprinkling of the richness within:
Stories are memory. They are love. And they are a kindness. Even when they are a lie. Sometimes, especially when they are a lie.”
For a lie told long enough and come to be believed can in fact come to be the truth, long-held, and used to deceive.”
And whatever wetness that came across his face must have been from the flurries that started to fall then. Were anyone to say those were in fact tears, then let us forgive him for a young boy’s joy.”
An important part of listening, truly Listening, is knowing when to be as still and silent as stone. For stone has heard and seen the shaping of the world itself. And it remembers all things that have happened above it. In stone rests the stories of all things.”
 This and much more is to be found within this less than 400K volume. RR Virdi knows how to truly paint a picture be it glorious or grisly. There’s a lot for every type of reader and for me besides the ones highlighted above, I found and loved many, many more.

In terms of worldbuilding, this volume lays bare a lot about the Etaynian culture and the church of Solus in the present timeline. While the past is all about the sandy ethos of Zibrathi culture and mythology. Both lands are fascinatingly drawn and we can see some of the real world cultures reflected within.  Coming to my favourite part of these tales is the mythological stories within and we get a bunch of new ones here:
- Tarun Tharambadh
- Hahnbadh & Naathiya
- Tarun Twiceborn and Esme
- Arun & Leilah,
- Feroz
- Another tale of Brahm the wanderer
- Athwun & Brahm
- Enshae’s origins
- Akela & his love
The stories take on a meta structure within the story as well as for the readers. On one hand, they are deepening the world’s history but they also inform the characters of mysteries & perhaps hinting at the future. The author is doing something unique with this structure and it’s for the readers to utilize Newton’s favourite tools and decipher the reasons.
The plot doesn’t quite follow a regular epic fantasy story structure, it takes its moorings from the older epics and is more of a story that continues with its peaks and valleys. The aim of these epics is to immerse the listener/reader within the story and RR Virdi does his literary heroes proud herein.
The action is mostly on a personal scale as this isn’t a John Gwynne or Paul Kearney type of fantasy. The action sequences are few and far between and this might hamper those readers looking for their action fix. The pacing however is absolutely on an insane level. Considering this was a nearly 400K words book but it didn’t feel like it. I was constantly racing through the pages and was often confounded as to which was my favourite part between the two timelines.
Lastly I must address another weird accusation that TFB & the author faced (and to this day, gets a lot of abuse). The plagiarism accusations were a bit absurd to begin with and with the release of the sequel, paints those denunciations as being what they are. A whole lot of hot air from fantasy fans whose ire and chagrin are misaligned to say the least. Another fun nod within this book is the encounter between Ari and a being who western readers might think akin to a Fae creature. I would like to see what they make of it.
Also for objectivity’s sake, I must highlight that this isn’t a typical epic fantasy which readers have been accustomed to. This is a good thing as the author take various mythologies (Indian, Norse, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean) and melds them in the world of Tremaine to give us a breathtakingly four dimensional world. Readers looking for a simple good vs evil story won’t find it here.
For herein lies a story that is elegant, enigmatic and epic from end to end. RR Virdi has successfully avoided the sophomore slump and given us a sequel that takes the positives from the first book and builds an engrossing story on its shoulders. Further highlighting the fact that he’s slowly creating a league of his own and making sure that the RR within his name is no false sign. He’s surely going to end up rubbing elbows with the other two coveted writers sharing the same initials.
CONCLUSION: The Doors Of Midnight is the Dark Knight of sequels, elegant in its sophistication, epic in its storytelling and enigmatic about its secrets. You have my permission to breakdown doors and preorder this book as the Tales Of Tremaine continues its epic march in anointing itself as Tor’s next biggest epic fantasy series.



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