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The Edge of the World by Kevin J. Anderson

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The Edge of the World by Kevin J. Anderson
Orbit, 2009, 672pp.

The holy city of Ishalem is literally and figuratively the only meeting ground between the peoples of Tierra and of Uraba. Both nations believe themselves descendants of the crews sent out by Ondun the creator to explore the world he made. Tierrans hold themselves to be descended from the crew of Ondun’s son Aiden, while the Urabans trace their decent from the crew of Ondun’s son Urec. Two different religions have grown up around the two sons, and each people believes that the relic of the Arkship in Ishalem belongs to them.

King Korastine of Tierra and Soldan-Shah Imir of Uraba have decided to take a great risk: peace. They have agreed upon an edict that will divide the world in half, Tierra controlling everything north of Ishalem, Uraba everything south. Both leaders meet at the Arkship to sign the edict, but the ink is hardly dry on the parchment when an accidental fire destroys Ishalem. Each side blames the other. The old tensions threaten to blaze into full war.

The Edge of the World is the first volume of a fantasy trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson. Perhaps best-known for his media tie-in novels and his continuation of the Dune series with Brian Herbert, Mr. Anderson started his “Terra Incognita” project shortly after having completed the seven-volume space opera, “The Saga of the Seven Suns.”

The new fantasy series is on a similarly epic scale, although for me the novel has an intimate feel. We’re introduced to Anderson’s world through the eyes of a relatively small number of point-of-view characters, unlike, say, the myriad point-of-view characters of George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Fire and Ice.” Nearly all the point-of-view characters are very likable, which makes it very easy to get into Anderson’s world.

There’s Mateo, the childhood friend of the heir to Tierra’s throne, Princess Anjine. As war approaches, the young man finds he has to grow up very fast. There is Omra, heir to the Uraban throne, who must deal not only with the personal tragedy of a wife lost in childbirth but also faces the challenges of running a nation when his father abdicates. There is Criston Vora, the sole survivor of a failed Tierran expedition to find the lost continent of Terravitae and Ondun’s third son, Joron.

My favorite character was probably Aldo na-Curic. Aldo is a member of the Saedran people, believers in neither the Aidenist nor the Urecari religions. They have devoted themselves to science, philosophy and craftsmanship. With their highly developed memories, Saedrans are esteemed as chartsmen, navigators who have memorized the details of entire continents. It is the Saedrans’ secret wish to detail the geography of the entire world, placing it all on their Mappa Mundi, the Map of All Things.

The position of the Saedrans in Tierra and Uraba is very strongly reminiscent to the position of the Jews in Medieval Europe (at least at the best of times) and the Islam of the Caliphs. In fact it is not very hard to guess the source of most of the sociology of Anderson’s novel. What makes Anderson’s world unique is the highly naval feel to it. Even the two religions and the cosmology of the world are based on seamanship.

I don’t know if there is such a thing as “light” epic fantasy, but that’s the phrase I want to describe The Edge of the World in the end. (With the recent proliferation of epic fantasies, it may be time to re-examine categories.) I don’t mean at all to denigrate Anderson’s achievement in using that word. The novel is full of action and adventure. I very much like that there really is no “bad guy.” All the characters (with perhaps one exception) honestly try to do what is best in their eyes at the time. True to life, their real struggle is not against an outer opponent, but against the darker tendencies within themselves.

Yet there is not the same gravitas in The Edge of the World that there is in, say, “The Song of Fire and Ice.” Martin’s work has, arguably, become the milestone against which present and future epic fantasy will be measured. Terra Incognita is no “Song of Fire and Ice.” It is extremely good fun. I enjoyed it greatly, and I will definitely be reading the subsequent volumes of the trilogy. But I wonder if Mr. Anderson could have done something more.

(Reviewed by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt)

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