At the start of To Ride Hell’s Chasm, an outstanding standalone fantasy by Janny Wurts, Princess Anja of the tiny isolated kingdom of Sessalie has gone missing on the eve of the ceremony for her betrothal to the Crown Prince of Devall. Since Anja is beloved by her people, and the alliance with Devall represents potentially big trade increases, it doesn’t take long for many people to be involved in the search, from Mykkael, a foreign-born former mercenary now in charge of the city’s garrison, to Taskin, the military commander for the kingdom.
Over 650 pages covering about 5 days, Janny Wurts delivers a story filled with almost non-stop action that’s at times impossible to put down. One of the odd and wonderful things about this novel is the contrast between the tight pacing and the lush language. Again, those 650 pages cover just a handful of days — the first day alone takes about 200 pages, because every emotion, every visual detail, every nuance of meaning is hammered down in the most meticulous, rich prose you could hope to find in the genre. As a result, one moment of realization can be dissected over several paragraphs, but amazingly, there’s rarely an unnecessary word in those descriptions. It all works together to drive the full experience of the characters home in unmistakable clarity. To Ride Hell’s Chasm never feels like a slow book — just a very intense one.
The novel is filled with several fascinating characters, but the most memorable one has to be Mykkael, the “desert-bred” foreigner, reviled by many, always placing honor first, and simply unstoppable. Here’s one of the highest compliments I can give a fantasy character: he wouldn’t look amiss in one of Guy Gavriel Kay‘s novels. From the moment he is first introduced, through the heart-pounding conclusion of the adventure, to the emotionally gripping wrap-up, Mykkael is an unforgettable character.
It’s hard for me to express accurately how much I enjoyed and admire To Ride Hell’s Chasm. Standalone fantasies are already a rare beast in this time of endlessly meandering series. To read a story someticulously crafted, contained in one cover, is a real pleasure. This novel is easily going on my all-time favorite list of fantasy novels.