THE VIEW FROM THE MIRROR by Ian Irvine
I wonder how much of an abstract autobiography this tale is. The main character shares a name very similar to that of the author (Ian and Llian) and his occupation is that of a chronicler and teller of tales. In other words, he is the rough equivalent of an author and researcher with a Ph.D. Ian Irvine earned a doctorate in environmental sciences before becoming an author, the former probably accounting for his excellent ability to create believable races and places.
Anyhow, this is an incredibly crafted piece of work for a debut author. It is one of those ‘once in a decade’ works that only come along, err, once every ten years.
The world is unique. I’ve never come across anything quite like it. The myths and races contained within these books are also very original. Though there are nearhuman races, there are no elves, dwarves, orc-alikes, or any of the regular fantasy fare. In some ways this is fantastic — I mean how often do you encounter anything so original? On the other hand, it occasionally felt almost as though I had found an unfamiliar genre to immerse myself in rather than the standard fantasy environment I am used to. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I’d much rather have to get used to something new than have the same old, same old all the time.
The story takes place on the world of Santhenar, one of four worlds each populated by different species of humans. Those not from Santhenar originally have become marooned there and are seeking a way to return to their homes. One thing I love about the world of Ian Irvine’s is that the geography is varied yet logical. I’ve read too many books written by authors who have clearly never left their home states and their lands are either impossibly mismatched or else just plain boring. Oh, and there are maps here, too! I’m a fan of having a pictorial reference for the places I’m reading about.
The language is simple, but powerful. Scenes are described economically, but with depth. One slightly quirky characteristic of the writing itself that I noticed is that the dialogue contains quite a few exclamations in places where you would not normally see them in written sentences. I got used to it after a while, like you get used to someone’s accent over time. I’ve read reviews from people who complained that the dialogue is stilted and choppy. I can’t quite agree, but perhaps this is a regional thing. The author and I are both from Australia, where we have only just ascended beyond communicating with guttural grunts, so the stilted thing seems actually more realistic. I mean, how many books have you read where the dialogue is in a florid prose quite different to the way people talk in real life? Hmm?
The characters in the View From the Mirror series are complex without being confusing. Their motives are very human. Although many of the characters tend towards being either good or evil, this is by no means clear-cut. Instead of the bad guy doing something evil just because he is a bad guy, you see his reasons and his justifications; he moves towards his goals selfishly, or he is proud and it leads him to hurt others inadvertently, or he is prepared to sacrifice a few characters for what he believes is a worthwhile cause for the many. So there is very little good or evil in the usual sense found in fantasy fiction. Certainly there are no
archetypes. Each character is shown to have clear motives in their actions, so while I may not like them all — in fact, I dislike many of them — I know them well enough to understand them and that allows me to relate after a fashion. There are also no plot
conveniences or characters making contrived about-faces. When someone behaves in an inconsistent way there is a good reason for it. This does not make the books predictable, though!
The characters in positions of power and influence are generally more selfish than those who are not,which seems reasonable to me. Two themes of the books are selfishness versus selflessness, and duty versus love. The characters have flaws and redeeming qualities whether they are good guys or bad. Alliances switch, truths develop that change the way you see someone, and so forth. As in real life, there are people you like and those whom you don’t; but everyone has depth, everyone has hopes and fears, they make stupid mistakes, and have happy accidents.
There are quite a few female characters in this story. And they are fairly varied in attitude, goals and even size, rather than being stamped from the same mould each time. They also take the main roles and are not just supporting characters. In fact, I think there are more prominent female characters in this book than any other book by a male author that I can remember reading.
I like the fact that the main characters, LlIan and Karan, are fairly normal people and not superhuman freaks with the ability to cast fireballs at anyone who bugs them or fend off armies with their superior swordsmanship. In a way they remind me of the hobbits from The Lord Of The Rings, because the hobbits were very much plain folk thrust into difficult times who, through courage and their own personal strengths, overcame extraordinary odds. Llian is occasionally bumbling and self-focused, but I can overlook this most of the time.
Probably the only thing about these books that I didn’t like was that in the balance between tension and release, there was a bit less release than I’d have liked. I wanted a few more ‘ahhh’ moments where I could relax and feel happy. That’s just me, though. I’m working too hard and need more rainbows and dancing unicorns painted in pastel colours.
Mark Pawlyszyn, one of our earliest guest reviewers, has always tended toward the creative side of life and had careers in music and painting before settling into his current position as the owner of Unique Images Photography. Mark has visited and lived in twelve countries and can ask for directions to the bathroom in several languages. He currently lives in Canada with his wife, Sherri.
The Three Worlds Cycle — (1999- ) This series contains The View From the Mirror Quartet: A Shadow on the Glass, The Tower on the Rift, Dark is the Moon, The Way Between the Worlds, and The Well of Echoes Quartet: Geomancer, Tetrarch, Scrutator/Alchymist, Chimaera, and The Song of the Tears Trilogy: The Torments of the Traitor/The Fate of the Fallen, The Curse on the Chosen, and The Destiny of the Dead (available later in the US), and a single novel called The Fate of the Children (TBA). Publisher: “Once there were three worlds, each with its own human race. Then, fleeing from out of the void came a fourth race, the Charon. Desperate, on the edge of extinction, they changed the balance between the worlds forever…” In ancient times the Way Between the Worlds was shattered, leaving bands of Aachim, Faellem, and Charon trapped with the old humans of Santhenar. Now Llian, a Chronicler of the Great Tales, uncovers a 3,000-year-old secret too deadly to be revealed — while Karan, a young sensitive, is compelled by honor to undertake a perilous mission. Neither can imagine they will soon meet as hunted fugitives, snared in the machinations of immortals, the vengeance of warlords, and the magics of powerful mancers. For the swelling deluge of a millennial war is rising, terrible as a tsunami, ready to cast torrents of sorcery and devastation across the land…
The View from the Mirror
The Well of Echoes
The Song of the Tears