TO RIDE HELL'S CHASM, Janny Wurts

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JANNY WURTS: TO RIDE HELL’S CHASM
Meisha Merlin Publishing, Inc., 2004

To Ride Hell’s Chasm is a wonderful hybrid of mystery, intrigue, sword & sorcery, and flat out action/adventure. The story follows the disappearance of the Princess Anja of Sessalie from her betrothal feast through the investigation of the disappearance by Mykkael, Captain of the Lowergate Garrison, and Taskin, Commander of the Guard and Mykkael’s superior. Complicating things is court intrigue and prejudice against Mykkael, who is foreign to Sessalie and dark-skinned, and plots abound, along with the interference of the sorcery-bound minions of demons. When the mystery is solved, the action begins, and the reader is left on the edge of their seat for about the last quarter of the book, which culminates in the flight down Hell’s Chasm. Even during my second read, I just had to finish the story, and could not put the book down until 4 a.m!

For those who are a little too intimidated to try Janny Wurts’ epic The Wars of Light and Shadow, this is an excellent introduction to her style without committing to an eleven volume epic (eight of which are completed). To Ride Hell’s Chasm does not explore the heavy, deep themes that are replete in the multi-volume epic saga of the world of Athera. Instead, this book is just a quick and fun romp. There is an obvious and abject lesson that demonstrates that prejudice harms the judge more than it does the adjudged, but this is included more as a mechanism to advance the mystery and the intrigue, not as any kind of preachiness. This book really shows that Wurts is not a one-world writer, but a true artisan of the written word, who can create different worlds, different characters, and has the flexibility to leave her tried and true characters from other works behind.

I love the main character, Mykkael. He is a man of great sorrow, who has suffered devastating loss. He has struggled through impossibility and survived, and literally has the scars to prove it. He is the battered and almost-broken hero, not the blonde-haired, blue eyed boy who saves the day. He is the living proof that any victory worth having comes at terrible, horrible cost. Taskin is also a great character, and one that I would have loved to have seen explored more, but then there is only so much an author can do in 659 pages. This is certainly a world that Wurts could write more stories in, and I hope that one day, she will grace us with that pleasure. Mykkael is, I hope, just too good a character for Ms. Wurts to leave alone.

Of particular note is the fact that Wurts is able to create this complete fantasy world (and quite distinct from Athera) without bogging down the reader in detail that slows the pace of the story. We are given just enough to give the story context, but the rest is plot, characters and dialogue. Wurts again provides amazing artwork and the best maps in fantasy literature.

This is a book that demonstrates the ability of an accomplished epic fantasy writer to make a story that is contained in one novel, and that starts fast and finishes faster. Of Janny Wurts’ three stand-alone novels, I like this one the best, but to be fair, the first two, Sorcerer’s Legacy and Master of Whitestorm, were written much earlier in her career. This book is also something of a tribute to horses, as Janny Wurts is an avid horsewoman.

Though it may not be a surprise I am giving this book five stars (my bias as a fan of this author is well-known on this site and elsewhere), this book has everything that a good one-shot fantasy novel should have: wonderful, vibrant characters, minimalist description (but enough to put the reader in the world), a great plot, mystery and intrigue, and an ending that gallops like the horses that figure so largely in the story. This book is just plain fun to read! Sadly, with the demise of Meisha Merilin in 2007, the book is only in hardcover and may be out of print in the USA, though I was able to find it on Amazon with ease. It is published by Harper Collins in the UK, and still in print there.
 

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