ean Russell writes big fantasy novels; his preferred format appears to be the
duology - a two book series. This is the third Russell duology that I have read: previously, I have read The
Initiate Brother (comprised of the books The Initiate Brother and Gatherer of Clouds) and I read
The River Into Darkness books (comprised of Beneath The Vaulted Hills and Compass of the Soul). I
liked both of those series; I remember really enjoying Beneath the Vaulted Hills, the adventure in
the caves was top notch! So I had great anticipation for Russell's Moontide and Magicrise duology,
of which World Without End is the first book.
World Without End is a big book, 600 pages long. It certainly starts off well enough.
Tristram Flattery is summoned to the court of the King of Farrland. Immediately he encounters two important
courtiers: the beautiful, manipulative Duchess of Morland, and the powerful, ruthless prime minister. However, Tristram
is not permitted to see the King, because the health of the King is very bad. It seems that the ancient man
is kept alive by a magical plant named Kingsfoil. Unfortunately, the royal gardener has been unable to get
further generations of Kingsfoil to sprout. Tristram is a botanist (a nice touch by Russell, how many fantasy
novels star a botanist?), and he is directed to join a sea voyage on board the Swallow to the distant island of Varua to harvest
more of the plants which grow in the wild there.
This is a novel full of intrigue and conspiracy. One of Tristram's old professors dies, and when
he goes through the house and papers, it becomes clear that his professor had a secret greenhouse of Kingsfoil -
but someone has destroyed the crop! Meanwhile, the irresistable duchess keeps luring Tristram into trouble, though
it seems clear that she does not have the King's best interests in mind - or does she? The duchess has a violent
brother, the Viscount, who threatens and frightens Tristram - naturally, both the Duchess and the Viscount are
on the Swallow.
In addition to all the plots and conspiracies regarding the Kingsfoil, there is a second plotline concerning
Tristram himself. It seems that in Farrland, all the mages have died out. The mages apparently made a pact to have
their secrets die with them, so that there would be no magic in the land after their passing.(Why did the mages do
this?) However, Tristram uncle (now deceased) used to work for one of the last mages, and there is speculation that
the uncle has passed down secret knowledge to Tristram. Might Tristram become a mage? During the course of the
sea voyage, there a several events that can only be described as magical. Some of these are minor - a white bird flies
behind the ship, even though the Swallow is hundreds of miles from land. Some of the events are clearly magical - such
as Tristram's fate when he plunges into the sea to try and save a sailor who has fallen overboard.
I read this whole book, but I didn't like it as much as Sean Russell's previous novels. Russell keeps
tossing in more mystery, more puzzles, but he never provides any ANSWERS. I kept reading and waiting for some explanation,
but all I got were more clues. Unfortunately, I have found that I liked the first book of Russell's duologies better
than the second book - he is better at starting than finishing his tales. So I am concerned about the next
book - will Russell answer all these questions?