With The Wayfarer Redemption, Sara Douglass has entered the U.S. epic fantasy sweepstakes, having - according to the jacket blurb - already taken first place in the Australian event. The Wayfarer Redemption is the first in a six-book series.
As with most, if not all, multi-volume series, The Wayfarer Redemption follows the stories of more than one character. The focus of this first volume shifts between Axis, the Battleaxe of Axe-Wielders, and Faraday, the betrothed of Borneheld, the most powerful noble in the land of Achar and the legitimate half-brother of Axis.
As his name suggests, Axis is the pivot point for two sets of brothers. His brother, Borneheld, is the son of the Duke of Ichtar and the Princess Rivkah. After Borneheld's birth, his father went on a year-long inspection of his holdings and came home to find his wife eight months' pregnant. Rivkah died giving birth to Axis. Now Borneheld hates his half-brother, blaming Axis for their mother's death.
Rivkah never revealed the name of Axis' father nor did she know that his father had sired another son. This son, Gorgrael the Destroyer, threatens all of Achar with his army of insubstantial wraiths. Gorgrael's wraiths wrecked havoc on Achar's northern-most stronghold the previous winter and are expected to attack in greater numbers this winter. Borneheld, as Achar's Warlord, has fortified Gorkenfort and is about to march north to defend it.
When Rivkah died, Axis was raised by the Religious Brotherhood of the Seneschal and now leads the military arm of the Seneschal, the Axe-Wielders. Even though Borneheld is Achar's Warlord, the Axe-wielders are not under his command and, in fact, Axis has had more combat experience than Borneheld who has had none. Naturally, this does not further endear Axis to his half-brother.
Now, with Gorkenfort, and even Achar threatened, the Seneschal has agreed that the Axe-Wielders and Axis shall come under Borneheld's command. Borneheld gloats; Axis is furious. Everyone else realizes that it is best to keep Borneheld and Axis apart until as close as possible to the wraiths' attack. With that in mind, Borneheld and his troops are sent to Gorkenfort via the quickest route while Axis is ordered to take a more circuitous route and to reconnoiter along the way.
One of Axis' missions, en route, is to escort Borneheld's betrothed and her mother back to their home. Faraday of Skarabost is 18, green-eyed, and engaged to the probable heir to the throne. The proposed marriage has been arranged without consulting Faraday and might have been more acceptable to her if she had not already seen, and been attracted to, Axis. Having Axis escort Faraday and her mother on a lengthy journey was not the best of plans.
In the hoary tradition of epic fantasy, Axis' journey is a journey of self-discovery, one where he not only learns much about his own origins but where he also begins to gain mastery over the powers he will need for the epic battles that obviously await him. He and Faraday are separated before she can reach her home, and Faraday, too, takes an arduous journey that results in her discovery of her own talents and powers.
I found Axis' journey of discovery more convincing than Faraday's. Axis' unknown father had plainly gifted him with unusual talents, abilities that he was only dimly aware of and unable to use properly. Nothing in Faraday's background or upbringing hinted at the unusual destiny that was in store for her. Furthermore, the quest motif has been done so frequently that, although Douglass demonstrates originality in some of Axis' and Faraday's adventures, that originality is not enough to overcome a plot based on such an often-repeated fantasy scenario.
Much of Douglass' narrative focuses on the exotic races inhabiting the world she is building and on Faraday's and Axis' magical experiences. Would that she had put as much effort into making the emotional connections between the characters more compelling. As it is, the conflict between Borneheld and Axis provided the most gripping scenes. Even though the cards were all stacked in Axis' favor, whenever both Borneheld and Axis were both on stage the action was vital and absorbing. Too bad there are so few such scenes.
The Wayfarer Redemption will probably appeal most to readers who have not done a great deal of reading in the fantasy genre. The novice reader may well get caught up in Axis' and Faraday's adventures, but I fear a more experienced reader will find these adventures less than surprising. For those who are drawn in, the good news is that the rest of the series has been published in Australia and thus the wait between books should not be unduly lengthy.
--Nancy J. Silberstein