Jim Melvin has constructed his world meticulously, with more than half an eye on the possibility that its epic struggle between Good and Evil might eventually be made into a series of films to rival The Lord of the Rings. We know the size (in cubits) and complexion of its dragons and its demons, its witches, druids and assorted devilish creatures, and our ears quickly become attuned to a language reminiscent of Sanskrit – the language of The Mahabharata.
This is an intricately woven, impressively detailed dystopian world with its own version of the Dark Lord Sauron and his minions, against which is ranged the power of the Asēkhas – the greatest warriors that world has ever known. Their leader, Torg, King of the Tugars and a Death Knower, is convinced that force alone can never vanquish the quintessential wickedness of Invictus - a demon-wizard drawing power from the implacable Sun - and that goodness, mercy and compassion must be enlisted if virtue, morality and basic decency is to have a chance to prevail. “Hatred is never appeased by hatred. Hatred is appeased by love.”
It’s an interesting idea that lends a welcome depth to the kind of story that could easily succumb to the temptation to stage one mega skirmish after another, with little more character development than is usually allotted to the average orc. Torg is a formidable warrior with immense power and almost infinitely renewable strength, but he is also very wise, and a great healer, with a mind and spirit capable of journeying through realms beyond the reach of humans.
Jim Melvin has a sharp eye for descriptive detail as well, and a lyrical ear for rhythm and balance. You notice the mellifluous phrasing early on: “Thousands of golden flashes burst from the three-cornered conurbation, resembling a wind-ruffled lake sparkling beneath a setting sun.” There are plenty of well-tempered sentences to soothe the reader’s soul along the strife-torn way. Here’s another one: “The Warlish witch, her face full of filth and fire, loomed over Tathagata.” It reminded me of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine… “Torg wept too” added the sense of the kind heart of the saviour in the King James version of the Bible (John 11.35).
The author also understands his readers’ need for light-hearted – even comic – relief, which he introduces in a fresh set of characters after Torg has suffered the tortures of the damned for the sins of the situation throughout the first half of the book. Keep reading, and find hope and love and powerful forces on the side of good. “Nourishing life ranks among the highest states of wisdom, destroying life among the lowest… There’s no justification for violence.”
In this half of the book an alliance is formed that will change the world. It’s a long story, and in these first episodes Jim Melvin ably prepares you for the journey. At the end of the book there are useful notes about the language, the places and the creatures we have met so far.