THE KINGLESS LAND
Tor Books / 320 pages / 1st edition (March 16, 2000)
RPG fans are either jumping about hysterically right now or they’re weeping hysterically. (Hysteria being a common state to the diehard gamer.) Should you be glad to see the creator of Forgotten Realms branching off into a novel series? Maybe you want to keep Greenwood strictly in the gaming arena, not wasting his time on something besides creating new role-playing worlds? Judging by The Kingless Land, you are going to have to get used to sharing him. The Band of Four series is going to keep Greenwood in demand in the novel category for some time. It’s out of our hands, now.
Aglirta, a land studded with feuding baronies, lethal mages, travelling bards, and — as you may have guessed from the title — no king to unite the country. There is a king, but he has been sleeping for some one thousand years now; only those wielding a mighty magic and legendary relics can awaken him.
Magic is in no short supply in this world. Lady Embra Silvertree, daughter of the most powerful and most ruthless baron of all, is a sorceress in her own right. Until she is liberated by a pair of reluctant rescuers, she is destined to become the lifeforce of his castle. Add one reclusive healer to the mix and you have a motley crew heading out to save Aglirta.
The odds are not really in their favour. At times, the battlefield becomes so crowded with warriors, mages, and voyagers that you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. The combination makes for some frenzied, intense combat scenes, and some battles from which it appears no one will emerge unharmed.
Greenwood has set up an impressive backdrop for his new series, packed with adventure, danger, mystery, magic, and romance. Characters destroyed have a nasty habit of reappearing to continue the fight. Few can be believed and even fewer can be relied on. Even within the Band of Four, trust is a hard-won treasure.
The Kingless Land is story in constant motion, there is precious little time for the characters or the reader to catch their breath. Relaxation is a thing of the past.
In fact, there is a minor test of the reader before jumping wholeheartedly into the story. Greenwood’s sentence structure can take a bit of getting used to. Some passages will require a second, more careful, read to get the precise meaning. It’s perfectly acceptable, just something that will take slightly more concentration than usual.
The extra work is worth it, though. Greenwood’s cast are people we come to care about, or loath. The quest to awaken the Sleeping King before total anarchy overtakes Aglirta is one readers will become immersed in, even as the combatants become immersed in blood, time after time.
True, the epilogue comes as a jolting leap over a much anticipated climax, leaving the reader feeling let-down and somewhat cheated of the magnificent reunion. On the other hand, we have seen enough magic at that point to have conjured up the “missing” scene in our minds — Greenwood is just smart enough to leave it to our imaginations.
A new series, a new land, and a band of adventurers we can root for — it’s got everything a fantasy fan could ask for and more. Much more.