Hinterland: Book Two of the Godslayer Chronicles
by James Clemens
Review by Drew Bittner
Roc Hardcover Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0451461134
Date: 07 November, 2006 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The surviving ninety-eight gods are outraged--and Tylar's reign may come to an abrupt and brutal end.
The skull of a rogue god is discovered and smuggled into Chrismferry by Rogger, Tylar's shady but loyal ally. Tylar and his men are attacked by men twisted by godly magic into depraved monsters, and they almost manage to steal the skull. Once it is secured, Tylar orders it smuggled into Tashijan, home of the Shadowknight's Order; meanwhile, he will travel to Tashijan for a ceremony re-inducting him into the Order. What should be a routine trip becomes a test of survival, when his ship is hammered by a freakish blizzard surrounding the Shadowknight's keep.
A novice Hand (i.e., body servant of a god) named Brant knows that the storm is unnatural; he encountered an earlier manifestation of it, when he faced a she-wolf and rescued her two cubs from certain death. Befriending the reclusive Dart, who has many secrets of her own, Brant tries to fathom the nature of the threat to Tashijan, even as new dangers emerge.
Within Tashijan, Castellan Kathryn ser Vail-- Tylar's former love and betrayer-- has burdens of her own. Warden Argent ser Fields, her superior, is a sworn enemy and blind to an assault building beneath the dungeons of Tashijan itself. He is preoccupied with the blizzard and the frozen creatures lurking within it, agents of a god seeking to destroy Tylar... whom Argent also despises. Were it not for the threat to Tashijan, Argent might happily assist the god's goals, until it becomes clear (in a secret meeting Kathryn attends) that the destruction of Tashijan is also this god's intent.
An attack of magic-enhanced undead from beneath Tashijan opens the second front of this battle. Caught between the blizzard and its creatures attacking the top of the tower and the undead striking from below, the Shadowknights find themselves pressed into a shrinking battleground. Tylar himself fights his former friend, now the puppet of dark powers, and is infected with a toxin meant to kill the shadowy daemon inside his body.
After some investigation, the rogue god's skull and the dark Graces (magic) it contains seem to lie at the heart of these threats. Tylar insists that they must discover where the god came from and why it intruded into "settled" lands--where its own chaotic nature would consume it. He organizes an expedition and discovers a way to break out of the prison set by the blizzard's icy winds. But this is only the beginning...
Before his journey is finished, Tylar and his small band will have to venture into the Hinterlands, where rogue gods and dark Graces flourish, if they're to have any hope of unraveling a conspiracy and saving Tashijan from destruction. Once inside that terrible wilderness, they will make some horrifying discoveries indeed and bring a monstrous injustice to its final reckoning.
In this second part of the Godslayer Chronicle, James Clemens tackles the question of "what do you do after you slay a god?" Apparently, you spend a serious amount of time dealing with that god's angry friends and allies. Not only that, but Tylar has the nefarious Cabal to battle--this being a group that aims to steal the gods' magic for humanity (represented by the Cabal's ringleaders, naturally). Their machinations lead to some significant revelations about the nature of the gods (who are split in three parts when bound to one of the settled lands-- a physical component and two spiritual fragments, one dark and one light).
This novel also clears up a major mystery involving Dart, the uncommon girl in training to be a Shadowknight, whose constant companion is a lion-dog-demon creature named Pupp that only she can see.
Clemens has built a fascinating world, complete with an intriguing system of magic and the godlike beings from which it derives, and peopled it with terrific characters. Tylar is a hero whose compassion led him to make mistakes, a situation he struggles desperately not to repeat, even as leadership forces him to make terrible choices. Kathryn is noble but conflicted, torn by her duty and her lingering love for Tylar, while Brant is a neophyte to the political intrigues of Tashijan but hopes to remain true to himself.
There are gods and great powers galore as well. Honestly, the two books of this series include some of the very best handling of godlike beings in recent fantasy storytelling.
This story is an epic fantasy that blazes its own trail. What could be a mere reworking of overused fantasy tropes in lesser hands is fired by Clemens' sense of raw possibility and fertile imagination. There is a sense of mythology blending with the intimately human, of gods and mortals alike caught up in a complex, world-shaking struggle which is only now coming into focus.
Fans of complex, character-driven fantasy will find this book one to treasure.