Note: Amanda, who reviews this novel, lives in the UK where this book is titled BattleAxe. In the US, the title is The Wayfarer Redemption.
A thousand years ago the people of Achar drove the Forbidden from their land in the War of the Axe. They pulled down huge swathes of woodland in their fear and now live by the Way of the Plough under the benign guidance of their deity Artor. But troubling rumours are brewing. Winter has come — and stayed. Icy wraiths are appearing from the mist and killing soldiers at the border stronghold before vanishing. They are believed to be the Forbidden, massing in order to invade Achar and kill the Acharites.
Borneheld, War Leader and heir to the throne of Achar (son of Searlas and Rivkah), is sent to the border with reinforcements to hold back the Forbidden. Axis, his illegitimate half-brother (born to Rivkah when she took a lover and disgraced herself), is the leader of the Axe-Wielders — the BattleAxe of the title. He has been sent by Jayme, the Seneschal of the Brotherhood (a sort of head priest figure, and Axis’ foster father), to seek out more information about the Forbidden. Axis must also take Faraday, Borneheld’s betrothed, a very beautiful and innocent young woman with whom Axis falls in love. During the journey, Axis finds out more about the nature of the Forbidden and the Sentinels, and learns of the Prophecy which will change the course of his life.
Sara Douglass has a fantastic imagination. In BattleAxe, she creates four completely different races and their shared history, a Prophecy, many mystical doings, and a family dispute that threatens to destroy the land and leave it open to Gorgrael, the foe. But despite this dense world-building, the pace is explosive, and the writing is simple and easy to follow. I whipped through this 600-page book in a couple of days, which (even though I’m currently trapped in my house by snow) is fast.
It’s just a shame that the plotting is so predictable, and the book so rife with clichés. As I was reading BattleAxe, I correctly guessed just about everything that happened, from Rivkah’s “surprise” resurrection to Faraday turning out to be more than she seemed. Oh, and when Timozel is mentioned as resenting Axis within the first paragraph of introducing him, what’s the betting he goes on and betrays Axis? What’s that? No bet, you say? Some characters are self-consciously made out to be good, then (surprise, surprise!) turn out to be evil later on; the military men immediately take the Prophecy as complete truth without any skepticism … but it’s just too easy to mock.
In addition, BattleAxe is in need of heavy editing. For instance, within the first 10 pages or so we encounter the word “perplexion.” Unless I’m completely wrong, Douglass is making up words here, and a decent edit should have picked this up.
It would also have turfed out some of the excessive info-dumping which is clumsily done. Every time Douglass introduces a new race, or the history of a race, or the religion of a country, she does so by having it explained to a naïve wide-eyed character. This happens over and over. It is a lazy method, and some of the information seems unnecessary — more like she couldn’t bear to omit anything from her exhaustive world-building notes.
An edit would also have prevented some of the “oh, come on!” moments. For instance, at the end of chapter 51 we conveniently hear about the Charonites for the first time. Two chapters later, one of the characters suddenly says they need to seek the assistance of the Charonites. All it would have taken was a brief mention of this long-lost race during one of the many earlier info-dumps, and this scene would have been much smoother!
I also have to mention Douglass’ cutesy names for her Icarii characters, and a naming convention she uses throughout BattleAxe. We have characters such as StarDrifter and GoldFeather (note the capital letter) and places such as the WildDog Plains. Axis is the BattleAxe. I hate it! Every time I read one of these names I roll my eyes. Naming conventions like these are common in fantasy (Douglass is far from the only offender), but this is the first time I’ve seen traditions of writing so cavalierly discarded.
And I’m not sure I am supposed to laugh at some of the sections I chortled at. Every time Axis and his Axe-Wielders leave a place, they go through the following ritual:
“Axe-Wielders, are you ready?”
“We follow your voice and are ready, BattleAxe!”
“Then let us ride!”
I suspect that this is supposed to sound stirring and majestic, but it just made me giggle, especially when they perform the ritual while they are supposed to be silently approaching an enemy in order to surprise them!
BattleAxe is the first in the Axis Trilogy. On the one hand, I don’t want to read any more of the books because there’s so much clichéd nonsense; on the other hand I am compelled to find out what happens next! So I award BattleAxe three stars; the two-dimensional characters and bad writing on one side balance out the fantastic pacing and imagination to make this a distinctly average fantasy novel.