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The Braided Path: Ascendancy Veil Bk. 3 (Gollancz SF S.) by Chris Wooding
Review by John Berlyne
Gollancz Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 0575077697
Date: 11 May, 2006 List Price £6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

With The Ascendancy Veil Chris Wooding wraps up his elegant oriental fantasy and thus brings to an end his tale of evil in the land of Saramyr. Already a name to conjure with in the young adult field, particularly with his novels Poison and the award winning and very excellent Steampunk fantasy, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, the trilogy of The Braided Path marks Wooding out as a serious name in contemporary adult fantasy and one can only wonder at he is capable of achieving in years to come--he's not even thirty yet and has ten novels under his belt already!

As with the previous two novels, The Weavers of Saramyr and The Skein of Lament the third novel of the sequence opens very strongly indeed and immediately one wants to read on. The land of Saramyr has been decimated by the evil influence of the dreaded Weavers, and the civil war between the Empire and the rebellion is in danger of tearing the world to pieces. Though the rebel forces are organized, their internal power struggles still threaten to undo them and now the Weavers have unleashed their most fearsome demons yet upon the land--the feya-kori--huge unstoppable monsters that corrupt and sicken everything they touch. The rebellion sends Kaiku, heroine of the previous novels and now a sister of the Red Order--a seemingly benevolent counterpoint to the evil male Weavers, to discover the source of these aberrants and she must journey to the capital Axekami, the stronghold of the Weavers, to find their goal. Elsewhere Lucia, the legitimate heiress to the throne of Saramyr remains a focus and a potent talisman for the rebel forces. A mysterious figure, with more than a foot in the spirit world, Lucia comes to realize that the time to play her part in this war draws near. Without the help of Saramyr's spirits, the rebellion is doomed and so she must lead an expedition to the heart of the Forest of Xu, to find and make a bargain with the oldest spirit of all, the Xhiang-Xhi, but what the cost of such a bargain might be, nobody knows.

And so Wooding's chronicles of the great war in Saramyr move towards what must be their inevitable conclusion. Wooding ensures that our sympathies and hopes lie with the good guys, but never allows us to feel comfortable about how things might turn out. There's a danger at work throughout these books, a sense that everything is at Wooding's whim, and that he can strike anybody he chooses down with a stroke of a keyboard key. His fearlessness in doing this is one of the most admirable things about his work. But there are many other things to admire here too--not least the setting of these novels with their very credible oriental background, a place steeped in its own mythology, rituals and social mores. Saramyr itself is not huge in geographical terms--the stories all take place within a single continent and there is no pretension from Wooding to create something to rival Middle Earth--but within this manageable geography there is something of an epic feel to The Braided Path, and that is a real achievement on Wooding's part. Elsewhere, we can admire the author's characters, tightly drawn but never too narrow and always facing some seemingly impossible obstacle which they must overcome (and when they do so, it's always a plausible and heroic solution); his absolutely first class and quite brilliant monster creations which are so sharply rendered that they make one's skin crawl; and putting these two things together, there are the brutal and tremendous battle scenes, depicted in high resolution and on a true wide screen background. It's all great stuff?

But (and there's always a but!) I come back to a criticism I made in my review of The Skein of Lament and it concerns the villains of the piece, the Weavers. I was blown away by these guys in book one, which concentrated very much on setting them up as a critical threat and cementing them in our minds as truly wicked and corrupt. Wooding made these guys interesting not just two-dimensional, single-strand, masked bad guys, but demented and solid embodiments of true evil, multi-layered and with the very faint possibility of redemption. I felt their absence keenly in book two, as Wooding concentrated more on other events in the land and thus I hoped to return to their story in this final novel. But I confess to being disappointed with The Ascendancy Veil, at least in so much as my favourite bad guys are once again relegated to the story's background. This is, of course, a completely subjective criticism--I just liked the bad guys! What can I say?!!

Though Wooding wraps up The Braided Path neatly, he has left enough threads for further explorations into the land of Saramyr. Perhaps the Weavers will return in a sequel? I fervently hope so, for a nastier bunch of villains I can hardly imagine. For the time being though, if you've followed The Braided Path this far, you will be more than satisfied with this final telling.


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