Author: Tanith Lee
Themes: sorcery, love, the power of belief, souls, astral projection, slavery, religion, pride
Plot: The author of the unforgettable Birthgrave, of the panoramic outworld of The Storm Lord, and of the future folk of Don't Bite the Sun, now presents us with something different-and yet equally enthralling in its color and fantasy and high adventure.
For Volkhavaar is a novel of witchcraft and wonders on a world far removed from those we know. Here the gods contend for power-and the Dark forces against the Light-and here an entire city and its land is plunged into the shadow of an evil beyond anything conceivable.
It is the story of Shaina the slave girl and of Volk the outcast who enslaved himself to cosmic forces to gain total power-and of how they were finally to meet and clash-with an entire world as their prize.
Volkhavaar is high fantasy comparable only to the best of Andre Norton and Michael Moorcock.
My Thoughts: Reading has been difficult for me this month, with school starting up and all. It seems I rely very heavily on fantasy and Tanith Lee novels when I'm stressed about school! This particular novel I actually ordered through Link+ at my university library, since I was having a hard time finding an affordable used copy. It contains all of the elements I so love about Tanith Lee novels, but with unique characters and plot so that I'm still interested it as an individual piece of work.
Volkhavaar is told in a very mythic tone, giving its story an air of folklore or ancient myth as told by a wizened grandparent. Archetypes are also heavily relied on in this novel, as is apparent from the plot description given on the back of the book. The story truly is a dichotomy between Light and Dark, Shaina/Love and Kernik Volk Volkhavaar/Hate. While this can sometimes feel quite flat, overall Volkhavaar maintains its integrity as a story, and seems to still have something to "say" despite the cliched basic premise.
The power of belief is essential to this tale, and the reader is left wondering throughout if something really occurs (magic or the gods' power for example) or if it is only believed to occur. This issue is even explicitly addressed in one instance, when a sword is reduced to its basic elements in order to erase its belief in a killing-which is undone as soon as the sword stops believing it occurred.
Like in most Lee stories, I found that the villain received the most attention, and that they were the true "movers and shakers" of the story. In this case, Kernik's life story and ambitions take up well over half of the pages and is much more of a "presence" then Shaina, who seems to be merely another beautiful, proud, vision of a hero. The conclusion only reinforces these impressions.
With that in mind, I did feel the conclusion was a bit anticlimactic. While the emphasis on belief creating reality throughout the novel did prepare you for the ending, it did seem as though it would have benefited from a more difficult or flashy resolution...since the clash between Shaina and Kernik was being slowly intensified starting page one I thought that there would be more struggle/fireworks in the concluding chapter. But apparently not.
Recommendation: Any lover of fantasy novels or stories about Love and Light struggling against Dark and Hate should enjoy this short novel (192 pages). The writing is atmospheric and artistic, and the themes tackled throughout the book are timeless.
Random Excerpt: "Takerna was the King, and Kernik was his prophet.
In the village street, passing him, they bowed to Kernik, as they had nodded to the priest. He was dreaded and blessed. They brought him presents, food, new garments. He led them up the mountain. It lasted all of a year." (p. 58)
Similar Reads: The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee, Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner
Lee, Tanith. Volkhavaar. New York: DAW, 1977.