HEROES, GODS, MAGIC AND FORBIDDEN LOVE.
Two new characters help to alleviate some of the disappointment of the first book of the trilogy.
Last Of The Wilds
(The Age Of The Five Trilogy, Book 2)
Genre: High Fantasy
Format: Paperback, 624 Pages
Date: 4th March 2010 (First Published 2006)
The first book of Trudi Canavan’s Age Of The Five trilogy was a decidedly underwhelming affair; this is especially true for those readers who loved The Black Magician Trilogy. With that being the case, one could be forgiven for approaching book two, Last Of The Wilds, with a sense of trepidation. In fact, I would recommend that readers keep their expectations in check, for while this sequel is an improvement on Priestess Of The White, it is not a significant one.
Looking back at book one of the trilogy, it appeared as though Canavan’s tale of religious conflict would be a simple story of good versus evil, told mostly from one side’s point of view. The narrative of Priestess Of The White unfolded almost entirely from the Circlian side of the struggle, so readers were not given any real insight into the motivations of their Pentadrian adversaries. On this occasion Canavan redresses this issue by having her story follow characters on both sides of the conflict.
This change in the focus of the narrative is a welcome and appreciated one, because it gives readers some much needed insight into the goals of the Pentadrians and a look into the inner workings of The Voices Of The Gods, the Pentadrians’ five member equivalent of the Circlian leadership; The White. The principle benefit of this is that it completely eliminated the very real possibility of the Pentadrians being reduced to little more than evil caricatures, who do evil for evil’s sake.
As the book begins, it is pleasantly surprising to find that the biggest flaw of the previous novel, the lack of compelling characters, is addressed immediately with the introduction of two very interesting female characters, in the shape of Pentadrian duo, Reivan and Imenja.
Reivan is an undervalued member of a think-tank in Southern Ithania, whose sharp mind and initiative in the wake of the Pentadrian defeat on the battlefield against the Circlians, brings her to the attention of Imenja, the Second Voice of The Voice Of The Gods. Imenja is very impressed with the young woman, so once the Pentadrians return to Southern Ithania to lick their wounds, Imenja quickly appoints Reivan to be her new Dedicated Servant, in spite of her limited magical abilities, which would normally preclude someone from attaining such a position. The two women develop a rather heart-warming bond during the course of the story, and having them both be point-of-view characters does much to remedy perceptions of the Pentadrians being a cruel and capricious people.
Going back to Priestess Of The White, the plot was uncomplicated and easy to sum up, but there were plenty of subtle hints that there was a lot more brewing beneath the surface. This proves to be the case as Last Of The Wilds’ narrative evolves into a much more elaborate and intricate one, with several interconnected stories unfolding.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the most interesting storyline involves Emerahl, my favourite character from the first book, who had finally tracked down the source of the disturbing dreams that had been plaguing her by the end of Priestess Of The White. It transpires that the recurring dream that Emerahl had been having, was in fact a surpressed memory emanating from Dreamweaver Leiard, who was inadvertantly broadcasting the images to Emerahl via a process known as Dream-Linking, which Dreamweavers use to share and preserve memories with each other.
While Leiard had no recollection of the strange woman who found him lost in the woods, Emerahl recognised him immediately as Mirar, the revered founder of the Dreamweavers, and infamous enemy of the Circlian gods, who had supposedly been assassinated by The White on behalf of the gods, many centuries earlier.
For much of the first half of the novel Emerahl assists Leiard/Mirar in merging the two personalities vying to control their shared body. It is not long before Mirar is whole again, and the character is better off for it, as it results in him becoming the genuinely intriguing character that he often threatened to be during book one of the trilogy. It is fascinating seeing how this founder of a pacifist movement, who categorically refuses to kill, goes about resisting nations whose people are religiously obligated to kill him on sight. An endeavour that is complicated by the fact that he is in love with one those very people. And though Auraya of The White reciprocates his love, Mirar knows that if she is ordered to kill him by her gods, Auraya would obey, unless he can turn her against them by revealing the hidden truth about the Circlian gods.
Last Of The Wilds is for the most part an enjoyable read, although it doesn’t successfully address many of the issues that hampered its predecessor, Priestess Of The White. One of the main gripes being the excessive number of viewpoint characters utilised. This is still an issue in Last Of The Wilds, but the problem is alleviated to some extent by the fact that there are some genuinely interesting characters this time, particularly the Pentadrian duo of Imenja and Reivan.
While it might be worth noting how pleased I was to discover that the most annoying character from book one, Tryss of the sky people, does not make an appearance in Last Of The Wilds. My delight was short lived, as the mantle of being the most irritating and unnecessary character is taken up by Princess Imi of sea people; the Elai. Much like it was with Tryss in Priestess Of The White, I was often annoyed when a scene featuring Imi interrupted the story, and once more I had to fight the urge to skip those scenes entirely.
Upon completing the novel, one of the most interesting things that give me food for thought, was the title. With Priestess Of The White it was obvious, from beginning to end, that the title was in reference to the protagonist, Auraya Dyer. Last Of The Wilds, however, isn’t nearly as clear-cut. Before I began reading, I assumed that the title was a reference to Emerahl, especially as the woman adorning the front cover is patently meant to be her, in the same way that the woman adorning the front cover of Priestess Of The White is clearly intended to be Auraya. But by the end of the book, we are left with the possibility that the title could be referring to Emerahl, Leiard/Mirar or Auraya. In fact, an argument could be made that it is a reference to all three of them.
Several revelations throughout the book make it apparent that the Age Of The Five Trilogy isn’t simply a tale of good versus evil that it initially seemed to be. During book one, I found it very coincidental that both the Circlians and the Pentadrians worshipped five gods, and though it isn’t explicitly stated in Last Of The Wilds, there are enough subtle hints to suggest that the Circlians and Pentadrians do in fact worship the same gods, but with different names. This insight, when coupled with Emerahl and Mirar’s knowledge of the less than benign nature of the Circlian gods, makes it more than likely that the agenda of the gods isn’t as beneficent as their followers believe.
While it no doubt has flaws, Last Of The Wilds does bring more to the table than Priestess Of The White, especially in regard to the portrayal of the Pentadrians. I was very appreciative of the fact that the Pentadrians were no longer the monolithic evil menace that they risked being portrayed as. In fact, the introduction of Reivan and Imenja does much to make the Pentadrians a sympathetic adversary.
Much as it was with its predecessor, Last Of The Wilds will probably be enjoyed more by those readers who have no familiarity with Canavan’s superior, earlier work, The Black Magician Trilogy. That being said, Last Of The Wilds does do enough to entice most readers to continue on to the final instalment of The Age Of The Five Trilogy.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.