Review: 'The Northern Approach', by Jim Galford
This is book 4 of The Fall of Eldvar by Jim Galford. I reviewed book 1, In Wilder Lands, here in March 2012; book 2, Into the Desert Wilds, in November 2012, and book 3, Sunset of Lantonne, in February 2014.
The first two are a two-part subseries, “the wilding story arc”, within the larger saga of The Fall of Eldvar. Sunset of Lantonne is a standalone adventure. The Northern Approach, which debuts at Rocky Mountain Fur Con 2014 this month, continues roughly where both Sunset of Lantonne and Into the Desert Wilds end. The planned book 5, Bones of the Empire, will wrap up and complete the series.
What this means is that it is assumed the reader is familiar with the events in at least Sunset of Lantonne. The Northern Approach begins almost a year after the fall of Lantonne at its climax; but in terms of the action it follows immediately, without any synopsis.
Eldvar is a world of humans, elves, dwarfs, talking dragons and more, including wildings which are anthropomorphic animals. The story’s focus on the wildings is why the novels of The Fall of Eldvar qualify for review on Flayrah.
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, August 2014, trade paperback $13.99 (432 pages), Kindle $2.99.
The protagonist of the first two novels is Estin, a “mystery” wilding (the reader will recognize him almost instantly as an anthro ring-tailed lemur, but neither he nor any of the other sentients of his roughly North American Rocky Mountain environment recognize a lemur) caught up in the war between the human nations of Altis and Lantonne, which is interrupted when both are attacked by the Turressian necromancers. Neither Estin nor the reader knows what’s going on except that it is brutal and deadly. Sunset of Lantonne features new characters during the long siege of Lantonne, the largest and most powerful city-state in Eldvar. During the 500+ page novel, it is gradually revealed that the real conflict is centuries older, more complicated, and more fatal than any of the cast had realized.
The Northern Approach begins several months after the fall and destruction of Lantonne, with the approximately hundred exhausted and wounded escapees heading north. The escapees have been crudely organized into a group by two who have become uneasy leaders; the wilding Raeln, an anthro wolf warrior, and On’esquin, an orc. Sunset of Lantonne establishes that On’esquin is centuries older than he looks, and knows how the overall conflict really started. Whether his background knowledge is still pertinent is open to question.
This Book 4 opens:
“Put the man down. Preferably in one piece, Raeln,” warned On’esquin, standing off to one side of the clearing. He had come running out of the woods and was still out of breath as he waited to see what Raeln would do next.
Snarling angrily, Raeln continued to hold the emaciated human against a tree, his face close to the man’s. The human shook violently and pleaded as he tried not to look at Raeln’s face. Each time he cried for mercy, Raeln tightened his grip on the man’s throat, silencing him. Soon, his claws dug into the soft flesh of the human, and his fangs were close enough to the man’s throat that he could practically taste the man’s sweat. (p. 4)
Everyone is filthy, exhausted, and starving. Raeln, an almost seven-foot-tall wolf warrior who was proud of his helping the weak, is disgusted by what he has become, and what he may still have to do to ensure the refugees’ survival.
“Can we save these people?” he [Raeln] asked, squeezing his eyes shut to hold back tears brought forth by memories best left buried. Like everyone else there, he had lost people, both family and loved ones. His own actions shamed him, thinking of those people who once would have been the first to chide him.
“No,” replied the orc, surprising Raeln. When he looked up, the orc smiled sadly down at him. “That is not our duty anymore. Our time to go is long past. Staying here only furthers your pain and anger. If I do not get us moving soon, I doubt that we would be able to fulfill the most basic suggestions of the prophecies. We both need to be at our best if we intend to survive in the new world we face outside these lands.” (p. 8)
The human cities of Eldvar have fallen to the shambling armies of ghouls, zombies, and other rotting corpses controlled by the real enemy. The question now is whether the few ragged escapees can still do anything to save the world from the control of the necromancers. On’esquin knows the ancient prophecies that hint of a chance, but like all prophecies they are maddeningly vague. Who are “the six” needed to foil the necromancers? How are they to do it?
If The Northern Approach has a central character, it is Raeln.
Raeln was alone, aside from the somewhat odd companionship of On’esquin. His loved ones were dead, his parents dead even longer, and even his home town overrun by the undead. No one he had ever known still lived, making each day a struggle to convince himself there was still merit in getting up from his half-frozen bedroll. Anger warmed him most days. (p. 9)
The Northern Approach begins at the nadir of Raeln’s despair, and goes upwards from there. On’esquin beats tough-love back into him to revive his self-respect, and the two abandon the refugees to set out alone to fulfill the prophecy to overthrow the necromancers. They are not equals; Raeln knows that the orc has brought him along mostly to help fight the dangers that might overwhelm a solitary warrior, and for his wolf’s eyes and sense of smell. Raeln is creeped out by such comments as:
“We should bring food, Raeln. […] I cannot starve to death, but you can.” (p. 12)
This is just 12 pages into the 432-page novel. There is bloody swordplay, black sorcery, a new ally, a section that will remind you of Tolkien, ghosts, a human city that has tried to “make a deal” with the necromancers and more. The cover blurb reveals that The Northern Approach merges the action in both Sunset of Lantonne and Into the Desert Wilds, so it is hardly a spoiler to reveal that the lemur wilding Estin becomes an important member of their group. The cover by Rukis shows Raeln, On’esquin and a fox wilding that readers of Into the Desert Wilds may remember.
The reader is told from the beginning that The Northern Approach is book 4 of 5, so it is no surprise that it ends with a cliffhanger. It is still a good read for furry fans. Readers of books 1 through 3 will have to get it. If you have not begun The Fall of Eldvar yet, you would do best to start with book 1, In Wilder Lands.