Review: 'Sunset of Lantonne', by Jim Galford
This is Book 3 of The Fall of Eldvar. I reviewed Book 1, In Wilder Lands, here in March 2012, and Book 2, Into the Desert Wilds, in November 2012. Those were a two-part subseries, “the wildling story arc”, within the larger saga of The Fall of Eldvar. Galford said on his website that Book 3 would feature new characters, an elf and a human; and no wildlings (furries). Yet Darryl Taylor’s cover for Sunset of Lantonne clearly features Raeln, a seven-foot tall wolf wildling, with Ilarra, his elf “sister” by his side. Did Galford lie?
Not exactly. The main characters in Sunset of Lantonne are Ilarra, the young elf wizard-in-training, and Therec, the older human Turessian necromancer. Raeln is only a supporting character – but you woudn’t guess it from this cover. Or from the first chapter, which plays up Ilarra and Raeln. Galford debuted Sunset of Lantonne at Rocky Mountain Fur Con 2013. Featuring a furry on the cover was a good marketing move.
And a justified one, if it will get furry fans to read Sunset of Lantonne. It is an excellent novel; Raeln is a memorable character even if he is not the star; and there are plenty of wildling incidental characters. Read it; you will not be disappointed. Also read Jim Galford’s website, especially if you have not read In Wilder Lands and Into the Desert Wilds yet. It contains a tremendous amount of background information on this series.
The protagonists of Books 1 and 2 are the wildlings Estin, an anthro ring-tailed lemur; Feanne, a red fox; and Feanne’s cubs, Oria and Atall. The setting is initially the Dutchy of Altis during its generations-long war against the Kingdom of Lantonne, and later the fennec-ruled desert city-state of Corraith; the plot is the conquest and destruction of both Altis and Corraith by the necromancers of Turessi and their armies of zombie-ghouls.
Lantonne is in the background in the wildling story arc, just mentioned as Altis’ invulnerable enemy.
Lantonne is the last and greatest city in the region, having stood against armies for centuries. (blurb)
Sunset of Lantonne is not really about the events in Altis or Corraith; therefore having read Books 1 and 2 is not required.
Ilarra is introduced as a young (26; about 17 or 18 in human years) elven magic student in the small farming village of Hyeth. She is notorious for being a powerful but sloppy student, so nobody can guess why she is selected by the tower of magic in Lantonne, a wizards’ college, for advanced training. She will go to Lantonne alone; but of course this does not mean without her “brother”, Raeln the wolf wildling.
Like his mother Asha, Raeln was a wolf wildling, though his patterning was largely grey with hints of white and black in parts of his fur coat, mostly around his face and chest. He had been bonded to Ilarra when they were children, allowing them to always have a sense for one another’s safety, but also tying their health and lifespans together. If Ilarra got a cold, so did Raeln. For his part, Raeln gained decades of extra life, in return for being obligated to protect Ilarra to keep himself alive. (p. 9)
(Galford’s website’s description of this same background is, “She [Ilarra] hails from a city called Hyeth, where elves and wildlings have created a symbiotic relationship to deal with frequent raiding by nearby plains barbarians. As part of this relationship, Ilarra is bonded with magic to Raeln, a wolf wildling. This bond allows Raeln a longer life and allows both members of the bond to benefit in other ways (faster healing, personal growth through the experiences of the other, and more), but also ensures that if one dies, they both likely will.”)
Raeln does not talk, but he is expressive in pantomime.
As expected, Raeln said nothing, but nodded and smiled. […] She had never heard him speak and had grown very accustomed to watching his slight facial expressions for his thoughts. A turn of a fuzzy ear, a tail flick, or a lift of his whiskers all spoke to Ilarra the same way words would from anyone else. (p. 9)
Sunset of Lantonne, as Into the Desert Wilds before it, is told in alternating chapters, as the young and naïve Ilarra and the more mature but still innocent Therec come from their very different isolated cultures to the urban metropolis of Lantonne. Ilarra is looking forward to getting away from the small-village atmosphere of Hyeth into the Big City, learning to become a master wizard and also, hopefully, discovering Romance. The more restrained Therec, a Preserver (necromancer) from the rigid theocracy (for want of a better word) of Turessi, would rather study at home with his family, but he accepts being sent to Lantonne as an ambassador by Turessi’s ruling council.
Lantonne is considering using magic to raise an army of the undead to fight the Altisians, who already have their own army of the undead, and has asked Turessi to send an expert necromancer to advise them. Therec is that, but he is unprepared for the morass of politics that he finds himself mired in among Lantonne’s aristocratic leaders – and worse.
Raeln is prominent throughout the 18-page Chapter 1. After that, he steps into the background as Ilarra’s foster-brother/friend and silent bodyguard, but he is still prominent in the odd-numbered chapters featuring Ilarra. In Chapter 3, Ilarra and Raeln find their entrance into Lantonne not at all what they expected, and they encounter other wildlings:
Though Raeln moved aside for the newcomers, Ilarra saw him adjust his footing, bracing himself to fight. He was giving them the benefit of the doubt, but preparing to kill them all if he had to.
Coming around Raeln, two red fox wildlings in battered leather-and-chain armor hurried into the room, carrying shields and short axes. The man and woman pair had dried blood in patches across their clothing but moved with the stubborn determination of trained warriors. Both gave Ilarra a quick look and began searching the room for anything or anyone else. Apparently not finding whatever they were looking for, the two wildlings went back out into the hallway.
‘Alright,’ came the first voice again. ‘Both of you come out and downstairs. Our pack-leader may want to talk with you.’ (p. 44)
Besides humans and wildlings, Lantonne is inhabited by elves, dwarves, fae-kin…
The woman was effectively nude, though covered in thick green vines that wrapped around her body like a partial dress. If one looked closely enough, there was even a greenish tint to her skin and hair, though that was fairly subtle. Even her long hair had a slightly green tint to it and Therec swore he could see small leaves here and there. (p. 49)
… orcs, and others. The reader sees Lantonne’s lower classes, which include the wildlings, with Ilarra and Raeln, and Lantonne’s rulers and the aristocracy with Therec.
Ilarra and Raeln continue to meet Lantonne’s and Altis’ wildings and more. In Chapter 5:
They had gone perhaps three buildings when a black wolf – so large that, even running on all fours, it was larger than Raeln standing on two – darted across the road, faster than Ilarra thought possible. She froze as it disappeared between two more buildings, giving Raeln a nervous glance to see what he thought of the newcomer. She had never even heard of a ghost wolf, so this was new to her.
Moments later, as Ilarra began slowly advancing toward the north, watching the alleys for signs of the wolf, she heard approaching horses. Looking south, thinking they must be riding in from Lantonne, she stopped and followed Raeln’s stare toward the north. Turning back that direction, she saw a large group – maybe fifty or so – of soldiers, several wearing the colors of Altis. Among their numbers she spotted wildlings, halflings, dwarves, and others. The sight of races that were normally enslaved by Altis riding for that city made her gape in amazement. (p. 66)
This is a review of less than a fifth of the 545-page novel, and even this much is misleading because of further developments; but it is impossible to go further without revealing major spoilers. There are many surprises; things that we learned in In Wilder Lands and Into the Desert Wilds turn out to be oversimplifications, and matters get exceedingly grim. Galford says that the existing novels will start to come together in Book 4, The Northern Approach, which will be published in 2014; and the series will be completed with Book 5. (And he specifically welcomes his new editor, Tricia Kristufek.)
Let’s hope that there will be more Eldvar books after this series is complete. They are GOOD! And with enough wildlings to please furry fans, whether or not they are leading characters.