Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review: A Cruel Wind: Chronicles of the Dread Empire

A Cruel Wind: Chronicles of the Dread Empire collects three novels that together form one of the defining fantasy series ever written. Glen Cook’s writing is a great flood that washes fantasy tropes and cliché’s away and in their place we are given three novels that make us reflect on what it means to be human.

Love, Longing, Loss, Friendship, Betrayal, Cowardice, Pride, Prejudice, Regret, Hope, Intelligence, Empathy, Sympathy, Bravery, Destruction, Rebirth, Hate, Manipulation are all displayed in a rich tapestry of human emotion involving hundreds of characters in a world based loosely on our own.

Glen Cook has succeeded in creating a world not only as rich as our own but in many ways richer. The images Cook conjures with his simple prose are haunting as the story unveils itself not only from the perspective of the mighty but also the lowly.

On more than one occasion I found chills running down my spine. Words don’t do these novels justice but I’ll try.

A Shadow of All Night Falling

I hated this novel. I had to force myself to continue reading it. At page forty I finally put it down, it had completely burned me out on fantasy. For the next month I read nothing but nonfiction.

Perhaps the nonfiction acted as a palette cleanser because when I picked up A Shadow of All Night Falling some things began to click into place. I no longer hated the characters in fact many I came to like. No doubt, Mocker is an acquired taste. His language can oftentimes read like little more than gibberish.

While I still had to sludge my way through the novel by the end I thought it was okay, a decent if somewhat typical fantasy yarn. The odd pacing and lack of motivations for the character’s actions still left me somewhat disappointed. As a stand alone, this novel is average at best. When read as a whole with the other two novels in this omnibus it’s easier to see what this novel was meant to do.

It is essentially the foundation for the next two novels. It provides an introduction to the characters and a shared history that is then referred to over the course of the next two novels.


October’s Baby

In October’s Baby Glen Cook begins to find his voice as a writer. None of the tediousness of reading A Shadow of All Night Falling remains. Instead the cast of characters we were introduced in the first novel come into their own. The author has clearly found his focus as you begin to empathize with each character and find yourself enmeshed in the world Cook is conjuring.

Building upon the first book the character’s rich history is drawn on to add much needed depth to each of the characters. Perhaps it’s because we are given more time with each character individually then in the first novel but throughout this novel you really get to know and love each of the characters.

Ten years have passed since the events of A Shadow Of All Night Falling and none of the character’s are completely happy with their lot in life. The longing of each character for something else will lead them down a path they thought they’d never walk again. As we go along with them on their journey we are taken on an incredible ride of realpolitik along with some of the best military fantasy I’ve read since ASoIF.

Battles are won and lost on twists of fate, tactics and planning do play a factor but the tiniest thing can sway a battle and possibly the course of an entire war. This unpredictability both in the battles and in the narrative make October’s Baby an exceptional work of Fantasy. The mix of the fantastic and mundane leave the reader wanting more and luckily…we get it.


All Darkness Met

All Darkness Met is a work worthy of the title best fantasy novel of all time. There is no doubt in my mind that this novel along with its two predecessors are going to be read 25, 50 and even 100 years from now if there’s any justice in the universe.

The continuity that carries over from the first two novels is unbelievable. A small throw away sentence from the first novel comes back to have ramifications in the third. The class battle that existed in the second still lingers many years past. Minor characters reappear to assert themselves more fully in the story.

This novel truly completes the series as everything in the Dread Empire series is weaved, smashed and pulled together bringing a fusion between these three novels that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. This novel manages to retroactively make its two predecessors better; a remarkable feat.

Throughout the novel the story jumps from past to present and back again. New characters are introduced as the story continues to unfold. There are heartbreaking scenes, scenes that are uplifting and some that you’re downright distraught after reading. I’ve felt chills down my spine when reading other novels but never to the extent and frequency with which they came in this novel.

There’s nothing more you can ask for from an author then what Glen Cook gives here. On the pages of this novel Glen Cook put his heart and soul into this story and it shows. When a writer writes something he cares so deeply for it can not help but to be transmitted to the reader.

This novel is a classic.


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