Saturday, March 1, 2014

Beyond Sanctuary by Janet Morris - Review by S.E. Lindberg

Beyond SanctuaryBeyond Sanctuary by Janet E. Morris
S. E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

Note: This January I interviewed Janet Morris on the Topic of "Art & Beauty in Fantasy Fiction."  Click here for that!

Janet E. Morris' Beyond Sanctuary is a splendid mashup of Dark Fantasy and ancient grandeur. Read this and you'll be transported into the Baroque masterpiece cover, joining the battlefield alongside gods and champions: Life to you, Reader, and everlasting glory!

The Cover: This Author's Cut version features Peter Paul Rubens' 1618 painting "The Death of Decius Mus in Battle"(translated title); this extends Perseid Press' cover art approach. This represents the book very well; it promises to drag you into epic, divine combat rooted in history. It delivers. Expect fantastic magic, doses of horror, stealth military sorties, and mature themes.

Tempus and Niko: The book follows many characters, but focuses on Tempus and Niko; the story arc leans toward Niko's plight, though Tempus is ever present. Tempus begins living a curse in which those who love him get hurt, and Niko recovers from losing his sacred partner (only to have his mind vied for by a god and sorceress). These are deeply motivated characters who parley directly with gods as contemporary immortals .

A Mature Read: Having not read the Thieve's World Series from which this novel evolved, I entered this with a blank slate. This is ostensibly the best starting point to delve into the Tempus & Niko series (see the reading list below). Here is what you can expect:

History-Informed Magic & Culture: Foremost, Beyond Sanctuary blends fantasy with historical elements so seamlessly, that history-deficient-folk like myself cannot easily differentiate pure-fiction from history-informed fantasy. Whether it's Niko's attraction to young women (which creeped me out despite being common in many cultures long ago and even today) , the intimate pairing of elite warriors (~the Sacred Band of Thebes), or the landscape of Nisibis and Mygdonia (those were real territories)... heck, even the gods and spiritual concepts are informed from ancient beliefs (i.e. Enil, Maat). The immortal characters and magic are presumably fiction. This mashup of fantasy/history yields a rich world for the characters to navigate. An informative Wikipedia posting on the Sacred Band of Stepsons explains more.

Mature Scenes: Adult-appropriate sexual scenes are abundant, though not gratuitous (they reflect the milieu informed by history).

Style: Expect intricate sentences with a panoply of vocabulary (and even parenthetical asides).

Names/Forms: Each character has multiple names (Stealth/Niko...Riddler/Tempus… Datan/Osprey … Roxanne/Cybele; and these folk assume various forms (they use illusions to become imposters, they shape shift into animals...)

Factions: There is a large portfolio of guilds, states, and cultures (Stepsons, Sacred Banders, Successors, Gods, Hazard Class Wizards, Wizard Wall Wizards, Rankans, ...); the characters each have multiple allegiances (to men and gods, or just men, or just men of certain region, or men and wizards…).

Conflict: Given so many characters with allied & competing factions, there are as many conflicts as there are combinations (Tempus vs. his sister, Cyme; Cyme vs. Wizards, Tempus vs. Gods, Tempus vs. Wizards, Tempus vs. Roxanne, Niko vs. Gods, free Nisibis vs. Wizards, Mygdonia vs. Tyse vs Nisibis…)

Series Reading List: Such depth requires more books! This first installment prepares readers for the series. Any fan of the Thieve's World would no doubt devour this novel; in fact, any fan of alternate histories or epic fantasy would enjoy it. For me, it's on to Beyond the Veil, and I can't wait to get to the later books that repackage the original short stories presented in Thieves World:

The Author Cut Versions, in strict chronology (as of 2014, noting that more books may be published ):

1) Beyond Sanctuary
2) Beyond the Veil
3) Beyond Wizardwall
4) Tempus with His Right-Side Companion Niko  (this contains flashbacks and the five original Janet Morris Sacred Band of Stepsons tales presented in the original Thieves World anthologies)
5) The Sacred Band
6) The Fish the Fighters and the Song-Girl(this contains a new novelette and frame story, with flashbacks and the six original Janet Morris, Janet and Chris Morris, and Chris Morris Sacred Band of Stepsons tales presented in the original Thieves World anthologies)

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