Welcome once again to the many worlds of science fiction and fantasy. This month, we visit the world of Santhenar as we explore Ian Irvine's A Shadow on the Glass. This is Volume 1 of his series The View From the Mirror, a saga that encompasses the combined histories of four races of humans from four worlds, one of which may be dead. So let's begin our journey to Santhenar and visit with some strange and magical people.
A Shadow on the Glass is the beginning book of the four volume series by Australian author Ian Irvine, The View from the Mirror. It is a tale of deception, desperation, magic, greed and war. The story begins on the world of Santhenar.
Llian was a student of history, a chronicler, one who kept history alive by telling the tales. He had a smooth voice, the kind that kept the attention of the listeners. But he was also a Zain, a virtual outcast, save for his ability to make people listen. He had been sponsored in his studies by Mendark, Magister of Thurkad, and he was nearing the end of his education. As a part of his education, he had to tell "The Tale of the Forbidding," the greatest of the Great Tales.
The story began when the three worlds, each with its own race of humans, existed in peace, and apart from each other. Then, from a nightmarish place called the Void, came a fourth race. There were less than a hundred of them, and they were desperate to avoid extinction. They conquered the Aachim and the Faellem, driving them to Santhenar, with its race of old humans. They also tried to conquer Santhenar, but a powerful mancer named Shuthdar created a golden flute, which he carried to a tower.
He met a crippled girl there, whom he allowed to dance while he played his flute. The Charon and the leaders of the Aachim and Faellem followed him there, and before they could stop him, he played the flute and brought down the Forbidding, closing the way through the Void and the other worlds.
When the Forbidding came down, the tower was destroyed in what seemed to be a nuclear blast. When the smoke cleared, the tower, Shuthdar and the flute were gone. But the body of the girl remained untouched. She was dead, and the story of her dance was pinned to her body with a long pin through her heart. She had committed suicide when her ability to dance was gone.
The part about the girl was never told until Llian had uncovered it in the archives of the College of the Histories. He added that to his telling. In the audience was a young woman with flaming red hair. Llian had noticed her, but he didn't know who she was. But, as the tale ended, she looked at him intently, and Llian heard a voice inside his head ask the question, "Who murdered the girl?"
Llian realized that the girl had been murdered, but by whom? His obsession with the question would lead him into trouble, even as Mendark tried to keep him from his quest for the truth. He would also find the red-haired sensitive, Karan again, for she had stolen something that had belonged to Mendark, the fabled Mirror of Aachan, which one of the trapped Charon, Yalkara, had used to flee Santhenar. Mendark believed it held the secret of the Forbidding and escape for all the races, so he sent Llian to retrieve it, and Karan, for him. Thus Lian and Karan find themselves unwilling pawns in a game being played by beings thousands of years old.
A Shadow on the Glass is the beginning of a fascinating series of four novels. It is long, but every word is required to tell this marvelous story. The characters are indeed human, flawed and imperfect, each with his or her own agenda. Who did murder the girl, and why? Was the flute destroyed in the cataclysm that killed Shuthdar? Or did he die at all? And what of the Mirror? Does it hold the memory of the way out for the Aachim? These are the questions left unanswered, and I anxiously await volume two of this captivating series.
Now, let's visit with Ian Irvine as we discuss the creation of these four worlds.
Jo Rogers: Mr. Irvine, welcome to Beyond the Words. Is there a particular place in space where you envision these worlds to be? Are they in this galaxy, and do they share a single solar system?
Ian Irvine: Thank you. As it happens, I have deliberately NOT envisioned where the Three Worlds lie, though I sometimes wonder myself. I don't know if the Three Worlds even lie in the same galaxy, much less in our own, however they definitely do not share a single solar system. The Three Worlds are linked because it is relatively easy to form portals between them, but I imagine they are quite distant in space. There is but one single clue to location in the View from the Mirror Quartet, ie that the Charon named themselves after a frigid moonlet at the furthest reaches of the void (Charon is the planet Pluto's moon), which indicates that the Three worlds lie an immensely long way from our solar system.
II: It is a Darwinian place where the struggle for existence is brutal and fleeting, and creatures, some intelligent, evolve or even flesh-form themselves in order to adapt to new threats. We do get glimpses into the void in later books, especially Dark is the Moon and the Way between the Worlds, and several scenes/pursuits through parts of it.
II: The secret is not as deadly as Wistan thinks it is, but Wistan is an old man who sees his life's work (the College) as being under threat, and he's afraid. The survival of all the species is not dependant on knowing the answer, but nonetheless it is a vital secret which is not uncovered for quite some time. I don't want to go too far into that because it is one thread that runs right through the Quartet.
JR: You have described all the races as "human," yet there are some differences. How different are they? Are they truly so genetically incompatible that mixing them produces madness? If so, how can they all be human?
II: I use the term 'human species' rather than 'races' in the Quartet, though in some editions the term was changed to 'races' in the blurb. I avoided that term because of its connotations. There are four human species: Charon, Aachim, Faellem and old human. Old humans are the ancestral species though where they came from is not explored in these books. The other species have evolved from old humans on worlds other than Santhenar, in the same way that organisms on our world evolve quickly when separated by a barrier such as a sea or large river (science now knows that this can occur very quickly). The four species are distinctly different (eg in their appearance; also all but old humans can be very long lived; and in all but old humans the ability to use the Secret Art is common) but they are still of generally human appearance.
Blending the different human species can produce children that are extraordinarily gifted; commonly such blendings may be mad. This could have such a simple origin as a few defective or incompatible genes. It need not be a large genetic difference.
JR: What race are the Whelm? Are they yet another human race, or are they completely different?
II: I've not explored the origins of the Whelm, but since you ask, they're an unusual race of old humans who were subsequently bred by their master for a particular purpose.
JR: Is there a reason you do not use the word humanoid?
II: It has science fiction connotations which I have been careful to avoid in my fantasy novels. These books have been described as science fantasy, a term I do not object to, but at their heart they are very much within the fantasy genre.
JR: The Mirror of Aachan and the flute are very interesting devices. Will others also surface in the future?
II: You can be sure of it, and more so in my new fantasy series, set 200 years after the View from the Mirror, wherein the 'technology of magic', if I may use such a vulgar expression, is greatly developed under duress. A magical arms race, you could call it, with predictable consequences.
JR: The Mirror is said to be a repository for memories, but it is also said to lie and give twisted versions of them? Does it always do this, or does it give the truth to the Aachim?
II: I have a great fondness for 'magical' devices but I also like every one of them to have a cost to the user. The Mirror is a very powerful device, though not in the way that any of the characters think (or desire). It was not originally corrupt, but has been corrupted by time, through use by corrupt individuals and, most importantly, by being carried across the Way between the Worlds from Aachan to Santhenar. It is forbidden to carry any object between the worlds because physical objects are corrupted by the passage. The Mirror is now so old and twisted (and malicious too) that only the strongest character has any chance to see the truth in it.
The Aachim are no more immune from its delusions than any other species; though in their hubris they might think otherwise.
JR: Where did the idea for this series come from?
II: It evolved while I was writing it (and rewriting over many years). A Shadow on the Glass was the first story I ever wrote and I worked on it, and the other books, for more than a decade. I do many drafts of my books and each draft adds adds complexity and depth. I don't usually have much of an idea of the story before I begin it. That's not the way I write. I create it as I go along then revise, revise, revise.
I did not start out with the idea of writing a series, rather to see whether I was capable of writing a book at all (you never know until you try). I just planned to write a normal sized book and it wasn't until I got to the end of A Shadow on the Glass (a cliffhanger) that I realised what a big story it was going to be. Mind you, I've always had a great love of epic, in literature and in music, so it was a natural evolution for me to write a huge novel. The View from the Mirror is in fact a single novel in four volumes, rather than a series of related novels, like most fantasy series.
JR: Are all your ideas this big in scope?
II: I suppose they are. I'm attracted to the length and the complexity of the epic, and whenever I think something is completely finished, I find myself wondering 'But what if ...?'
JR: Will your next project be a series, or a single book?
II: My next project after The View from the Mirror was/is a trilogy of near-future eco-thrillers of which the first, The Last Albatross, is already out (not published in the US but available on Amazon).
My next fantasy project is The Well of Echoes, as I mentioned. It's a 3 volume novel, set on Santhenar 200 years after the events of The View from the Mirror, when the world is greatly changed due to the invasion of intelligent creatures from the void (the lyrinx). 150 years of war have greatly developed the technology of magic (and magical technology) on both sides.
Book 1: Geomancer, has just been published here in Australia and will be published in the UK next year.
JR: Thank you for allowing us to talk to you. There are still many unanswered questions, but we will all need to wait for the other books in the series for the answers, lest we give away too much of the story.
II: Thank you. It's been a pleasure and I've learned a few things I'd not previously thought about.
So ends our journey to Santhenar for now. I hope you enjoy this exciting series as much as I have, and look forward to the rest of the story. The second volume, The Tower on the Rift, will be available in January 2002, the third volume, Dark is the Moon, will be teleased in July 2002, and the fourth, The Way Between the Worlds, will be released in January 2003.
Next month, we'll look at a category of science fiction and fantasy that is growing in popularity - the romance. Until then, Happy Reading!