I’ve been a fan of Mark’s work since I read the first chapter of Nights of Villjamur. That book was something special (my review here), and Book 2 in the Legends of the Red Sun, City of Ruin, was even better. So when I started reading Book 3 I was pretty confident that Mark wasn’t going to disappoint – after all, being two books into a series should mean that the storyteller is more confident and at ease. I’m happy to report that The Book of Transformations didn’t disappoint.
This third book in the series is an epic – major things happen, major and far-reaching events, even though most of the characters we’ve met in the first two books aren’t to be seen. The setting for this book is, for the most part, Villjamur itself, though there are chapters that venture further out to continue the story of a group of characters that stepped into the unknown in the first book.
Character-wise, Mark really had fun in this book. We’ve got a detective-kind of guy, who’s investigations put him firmly in the sights of the Emperor; a group of outcasts who are brought together to create something that the citizenry of the city can look up to, and an old man who has spent a long time traveling to Villjamur, in search of a very important artifact – The Book of Transformations.
You may recall that Books 1 and 2 also had a detective-kind of character in the main cast – it’s a difficult thing to pull off, having an investigator picking up clues and interviewing people as he’s investigating a case, especially in a Fantasy novel. I think it must be difficult to keep to that tightrope, to be able to balance the needs of the story against the characters, but Mark once again pulled it off – this investigator isn’t a carbon-copy of the man from Books 1 and 2, and as the novel progresses he grows into the kind of character that becomes the anchor, if you will – the island of normality in the strangeness. I think many readers will enjoy his story and the chapters that he features in, because there’s a definite sense of ‘impending doom’ dogging him, but he’s such a likeable character that I found myself cheering him on, despite knowing more than he did about the forces he was arrayed against (up to a certain degree, I must add). He also ends up taking a very important dual-role in the novel, and I hope that the final book in the series, The Broken Isles, explores the fallout of these dual roles a bit more, especially in light of what happens at the end of this novel.
The group of outcasts had me worried before I began reading the novel – a little birdie told me just what ‘kind’ of group this would be and though I was excited to read how they would be integrated into a Fantasy setting I was worried that it would fall flat. One of the characters seems to be a homage to a very famous axe-man in Fantasy, and Mark uses him to explore the consequences of being a hero; I really liked this guy even though, if I consider the situation he was pulled from, he had the least to lose. He brought a sense of melancholy to the novel, but also a different kind of emotional intensity versus the others in his group. Even though he had the least to lose, it turns out that he had the most to lose – he’s the kind of character that most people sympathies will go to and I really enjoyed his tale.
The female of the group – well now, if you’ve read Mark’s previous Legends of the Re3d Sun novels you’ll know that Mark doesn’t shy away from the kinds of subjects that usually aren’t present in Fantasy, or even Science Fiction. SPOILER WARNING. For example, one of the main protagonists from Nights of Villjamur and City of Ruin is a gay man, and I found Mark’s exploration of this character to be honest, unflinching and respectful – you know, the kind of portrayal any character should enjoy. Mark didn’t do anything special with this character – he just let him live out his tale in his world. It wasn’t always a happy tale and this guy had to face many obstacles and problems, but doesn’t every character in Fiction? What I’m trying to say is that it must be difficult to not place too much emphasis on a character who isn’t the mead-and-wench kind of man, but Mark not only pulled it off in Books 1 and 2 but also here, with this female character. She’s a practical, thinking and feeling being who is just trying to survive, and she finds herself in a situation where she can make something of herself and prove to herself that everyone has been wrong about her. But that same situation affords her the capability to exact some retribution for everything she’s been through – this constant struggle and the search for herself through it all made her a compelling character and a great ‘voice’ for everything that was occurred in Viljamur, the city in which the novel’s events take place.
The third member of the group, though, doesn’t get as tight a focus as his companions, yet his motivations still ring out, making the group three individuals instead of two memorable characters and one side-kick, which could easily have happened. I liked how this character’s point-of-view and motivations not only clashed with those of his companions but also forced them to look at themselves and their situations differently.
The plot of the book is, as I mentioned earlier, epic – the previous problems in the first two novels, that of refugees seeking shelter from the coming Ice Age, reach a boiling point of sorts when citizens within the city start working against what the Emperor wants, which then leads to the kind of crackdowns that channels such as CNN, BBC and Sky News have acquainted us too well with. Also, a character who has gone in search of something greater than himself has found it, and when he returns to Villjamur, the consequences are –among other things- shattering.
The novel’s title is perfectly apt, as practically everyone in the tale is forced to change, and not only them, but the Empire they’ve lived in. Plus, there is a literal meaning to the title in the novel.
This was a tense, exciting novel, standing strongly alongside the first two in the series, and I’m excitedly looking forward to seeing where everything leads in The Broken Isles. Highly recommended!
9 / 10
The novels in the series have all received updated covers (which I love) and here they all are – you know, so that you can spot them easily when you’re browsing.
The Broken Isles is already available, will get stuck in as soon as I get my copy.
Until next time,