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The Last Guardian of Everness
John C. Wright
Tor, 332 pages

The Last Guardian of Everness
John C. Wright
John C. Wright is a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor. He presently lives in Virginia, with his wife, the authoress L. Jagi Lamplighter, and their two children. He has published shorter works in Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine, one of which was selected to appear in Year's Best SF 3 edited by David G. Hartwell for 1997.

John C. Wright Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Golden Age
SF Site Interview: John C. Wright

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

It starts out in well-trod territory, full of ruts by all those who've traveled this route before.

A young man with a task. Strange signs of impending doom. The disbelief of elders. The young man sets off on a difficult quest that may determine the balance between Good and Evil.

A loving husband makes an ill-fated bargain to save his wife from a terrible disease. His wife his saved, but the small print contains hidden contractual obligations for rendering payment due.

A hearty band of misfits, including a maimed warrior and a woman with nascent magical talent, put all their cunning to use in fending off a massive onslaught by the forces of Darkness in search of a coveted Key that is the source of all power. Just as the mortals are about to be overpowered, as a last desperate effort they each accept a ring that bestows a unique power to counter evil forces, but at great pain and price to the bearer.

And this is just Book One.

Been there, done that, right?

Not quite.

As might be expected from the author Nick Gevers once described as "flamboyantly erudite," John C. Wright is not interested in mere "fantasy by the numbers" in The Last Guardian of Everness; in fact, he frequently pokes fun at the genre, even as he pulls you into a gripping tale told with all the tropes slightly twisted in compelling ways. Here, for example, is young and naïve Galen Waylock, last watchman of the dream-gate, recounting to Wendy (a name obviously intended to invoke Peter Pan's more practical love interest and the aforementioned spouse saved in the classic ill-fated deal with the devil) how he came to his current incorporeal state as a result of his encounter with Azrael, the imprisoned first Guardian long fallen from grace:

Wendy, listening to the story with great interest, rattled her bed sheets in a gesture of impatience, saying, "But why did you trust him?... I would have asked him a lot more questions about who this Dylan was. I would have asked him who betrayed Vindyamar (I love that name!). Well? Didn't you ask him anything about any of this?"

"Well, I tried to ask, but the moment he handed me the glowing marble, he kind of fell over and collapsed against the bottom of the cage. Also, he said the dawn was going to come, so I should go immediately. I had to jump."

"Off the end of the world?"

"Off the end of the world."

"And---?" prompted Wendy.

"And, what?" asked Galen, blinking.

"And why didn't you tell him no?

"Well, I didn't. I mean -- I need to prove myself. And he was unconscious."

"Jumping off worlds cannot be good for your health. No wonder you're a ghost!"

"It wasn't like that!"

Wendy raised one eyebrow with an intensely skeptical look. (She had practiced this look in front of a mirror after she had seen Vivian Leigh in Gone With the Wind look that way at a Union soldier before shooting him. It was one of her favorite expressions.) "Well, I guess you're pretty young and trusting. Oh! Don't get that look on your face; you'd think you'd swallowed a frog!"

We're not in Middle-Earth, anymore, Toto. But, as many times as Wright goes for the joke, the knowing wink, the elbow under the ribs to see if you get the sly reference, he still delivers the high heroic epic form that, despite the multitude of variants in which it has already been told, continues to hold our imaginations in making us ponder the analogous tendencies between good and evil that dwell within us all.

This happens to be one of the better variants.

Where it doesn't vary, however, is that this novel is only the first part of a two-volume The War of the Dreaming sequence, in keeping with the evil strategy of publishers to wring maximum profits from their vassals. But sometimes, as is one of the themes of this book, you have to compromise with evil to achieve the greater good. So, buy this book that ends in eloquent cliffhanger, and be patient, for the sequel should arrive in March 2005, when the days contain more natural light for us to read of how these assorted mortals face the rising Darkness and, presumably, triumph. In, also presumably, a post-ironic kind of way.

Copyright © 2005 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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