ALCHYMIST

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Paperback 720 pages (October 1, 2004)

Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 1841491810

I was attracted to Irvines’ ‘Well of Echos’ by the excellent covers, and a good review of the first book in SFX. Three books in and I’m still there and awaiting the fourth, so he must be getting it right somewhere.

Sometimes though, ‘where’ is a bit of a mystery. None of his characters are at first that appealing, coming across as either selfish (Cryl-Nish), drippy (Tiann) or just mad (Vithis). His prose is also lacking, stating the obvious when looking over the shoulders of protagonists. Despite the multiple characters emotions are often spelt out rather than inferred, and all are written in the same occasionally overly simplistic fashion. He also sometimes lurches off into pseudo-techno-fantasy babble, describing the magical fields and devices of the land of Santhenar in great detail. It can be easy for a reader can get lost with this.

He makes up for it with armies of giant clanker war walkers (think medieval AT-AT’s) fighting epic battles against the enemy, evil sorcerers and the wonderful Ex-Scrutator Xervish Flydd who is by far the best character in the series. The series also has its fair share of pleasingly dark moments, and the writer is not afraid to kill of characters

The plot is quite complex by now, but basically mankind is fighting a loosing war against the Lyrinx, giant man eating spiky bat things from another dimension. This is further complicated by the arrival of a third technologically advanced race, the Acchaim, who have motives of their own, inevitably. I’m doing it an injustice, the plot weaves and twists very nicely with the humans being almost as twisted as their opponents.

If you liked the first and second books enough, then this is a suitable continuation. If you are unsure, try the first. If you can put up with some of the writers’ quirks, you should love it. It is far more creative than most fantasy other out there, but the writing may not be to everyone’s tastes.

Inventive yet accessible fantasy and something of a page-turner.
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