Author: Ian Irvine
Dates Published: 1998-1999
Pages: Total of 2,485 over four books
Karan, a sensitive with a troubled heritage, is forced to steal an ancient relic. But it turns out to be the Mirror of Aachan, a twisted, deceitful thing that remembers everything it has ever seen. At the same time, Llian, a brilliant chronicler, is expelled from his college for uncovering a perilous mystery. Thrown together by fate, Karan and Llian are hunted across a world at war, for the mirror contains a secret that offers each species survival…or extinction.
From this encounter Karan and Llian are accidentally dragged into a desperate struggle for power between four different races that inhabit Santhenar – the old humans, Aachim, Faellem and Charon – that draws the reader through the bitter hatred and age long rivalries of each clan and the a vividly described continent. The ‘View from the Mirror’ quartet spans the following four novels:
- A Shadow on the Glass
- The Tower on the Rift
- Dark is the Moon
- The Way Between the Worlds
Irvine has an interesting background. Unlike most authors, he did not study at University in an English or socially related area – he actually has a BSc (Hons) in geology and a PhD in Marine Science. This lends a more raw and basic feel to the novels. It doesn’t seem like Irvine is interested in intellectually impressing his peers, but creating a work that reflects his own tastes.
Irvine attempts to break away from traditional fantasy genre elements. There is no stereotypical western Europe setting or elves/dwarves. Rather than simply reinventing old cliches (like making Elves ‘dark’) he creates unique settings, magic and races. The settings are unusual, lush and lavishly described. The audience travels from vast dried up seas to the freezing slush like wetlands of Fiz Gorgo. All the place and character names were ‘made up’ by Irvine, he does not borrow names of mythological figures or locations to enrich his world. The races (Aachim, Charon and Faellem) are interesting and aren’t merely a previously established fantasy race with a different name.
Distancing ‘The View from the Mirror’ from tradition is both a strength and weakness for the series. For instance, Irvine’s reliance on human folly rather than a ‘dark lord’ is a refreshing break, but this can sometimes be frustrating as major plot points rest on people ‘cocking up’ or the good guys being continually forced into doing heinous acts.
Irvine takes a ‘warts and all’ approach to the characters, which grounds them in reality amongst an exotic setting. My favorite characters are the fragile, yet brave Maigraith and charismatic Rulke. Unfortunately I did not like Llian, one of the main characters, though he was well written.
The story suffers greatly from some very basic but crucial problems, including pacing. It feels like Karen is running from Yggur’s henchmen forever, which eventually causes a lot of frustration for the reader. Like most Fantasy genre novels, the actual story could have been told in half or even a third of the pages. Though Irvine’s writing is at a publishable standard, it is also apparent that he is a novice. His writing is straight forward, sometimes to the point of being slightly rudimentary. He excels at describing landscapes and objects, but seems to struggle with other areas that require more skill and subtlety.
I can confidently say that ‘The View from the Mirror’ books have the best world maps ever drawn for a fantasy novel (Irvine is a geologist after all). The level of detail is astounding. We are not only supplied with a main map, but also other maps magnifying regions where most of the action takes place. It’s when you see the magnified maps that you realise the crazy amount of rich detail. During interviews Irvine has stated that he wanted to create a world that was somewhat plausible, and due to his geologist background, was often frustrated reading other fantasy novels that featured environments that couldn’t possibly exist together. Creating the maps for Santhenar must have been a labour of love for Irvine.
The book covers are truly imaginative and beautiful, with their deep colours and mysterious landscapes. I was drawn to them like moth to the flame. I believe that more fantasy novels should focus on having covers like these, rather than the ‘muscle man holding hulking sword with buxom wench dangling around his ankles’ approach.
Enjoyment of this series hinges on whether the reader can overlook Irvine’s plot and writing shortcomings and focus on the beautiful world and characters he has created. Obviously an interest in the fantasy genre will help. Though it is not a great work of fiction, I was still interested enough to purchase and read more of his works.
♥♥ – 2/5