“Vengeance” is the first book of author Ian Irvine’s new fantasy trilogy, “The Tainted Realm,” and it is a book for which I have very mixed feelings.
Ian Irvine is pretty much my hero. I hold his Three Worlds novels to be among the greatest works of literature in the modern era, and it is my greatest aspiration as a writer to one day equal his originality and his ability to write gripping, epic stories.
In many ways, “Vengeance” is as brilliant as his past books, but at the same time, it feels like a book I endured more than enjoyed. That’s not as big a criticism as it sounds, but I’ll explain later. I’m getting ahead of myself — allow me to explain the basics of the book, first.
“The Tainted Realm” is about the conflict between two nations, Hightspall and Cython. In ancient times, Hightspall’s founders invaded the idyllic kingdom of Cythe, massacring its people and ruthlessly despoiling its beautiful cities to build their own nation atop the ruins. The few survivors of Cythe fled beneath the earth and founded the subterranean nation of Cython.
Now, thousands of years later, the tortured ghost of Cythe’s last king marshals Cython for a terrible vengeance against Hightspall.
The story is told primarily from the perspective of Tali vi Torgrist. Tali is one of the Pale, an offshoot of the Hightspallers enslaved within Cython for centuries. As a child, Tali witnessed her mother’s brutal — and absurdly gruesome — murder, and now she has learned she will suffer the same fate if she does not escape Cython.
Other central characters include Rix, a Hightspaller noble tormented by guilt over an unknown crime he can’t remember committing; Tobry, a disgraced noble whose flippant attitude masks the pain of his past; and Rannilt, a seemingly wretched Pale orphan whose courage outstrips the greatest of men.
If this book had been written by anyone else, I’d be singing the praises of these characters. But they don’t quite measure up the quality I’ve come to expect from Ian Irvine. They’re just a little too close to common cliches — the tough little woman who won’t take it anymore, the lovable scoundrel hiding a big heart…
Although to be fair, Ian Irvine has an incredible ability to make his characters grow and evolve over time, so this complaint may not remain true for the duration of this series.
This is ultimately a minor issue, anyway. There’s just one thing that I consider to be a major flaw in “Vengeance.”
Ian Irvine’s writing has always been dark and intense — occasionally even brutal. It’s one of the things I so respect about him; no other author has the guts to put his characters through hell the way he does.
But he’s always kept it balanced. There are always a few brief but welcome moments where the story takes a more positive turn. Even in his most dark and tragic tales, there are moments of warmth and joy to counteract all the heartache.
Not so with “Vengeance.” The entire book is an endless spree of tragedy and horror, with absolutely no pauses for the reader to catch their breath. Any brief moments of joy any character may experience exist only to be brutally ripped away moments later, and they are invariably kicked while they are down.
The end result is a book that will break your heart, numb your mind, and grind your soul. This is why I say it’s a book more to be endured than enjoyed.
But yet, somehow, I feel it is worthwhile in the end. For all that it’s a book I will spend hours if not days recovering from, there’s much here to love.
The story is fast-paced, thrilling, and action-packed in a way that only Irvine can pull off. It’s a fiendishly addictive page-turner that you simply won’t be able to put down. Irvine again demonstrates his brilliant mastery of world-building with the haunting underground world of Cython. And the concept of a country tainted by ancient crimes such that the land itself turns against its conquerors is awe-inspiring and chilling in a way that can rarely be equaled.
I don’t know how to feel about this book. It’s horrible (in terms of content, not quality), but it’s also amazing.
All I can say is that I eagerly await the next installment of the series, but I won’t be recommending “Vengeance” to everyone I meet like I do with the Three Worlds.
Overall rating: 8.4/10 It’s good, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
Now, go buy some Three Worlds books. Do eet.