Review: The Way of Edan
Every word is worth savoring in The Way of Edan, the masterful debut epic fantasy from Philip Chase and the first volume in his Edan Trilogy.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s influence is evident throughout The Way of Edan, starting with the circuitous path taken by Philip Chase toward publication of his debut. Following in Tolkien’s footsteps, Chase first established himself as a prominent medievalist and professor of English before devoting many years to develop his own fantasy world, Eormenlond. Like Middle-earth, Eormenlond feels fully realized, with The Way of Edan only scratching the surface of its history and lore.
Chase also shares Tolkien’s love of the Old English epic poem, Beowulf, which Tolkien translated into modern English in the 1920s. Chase describes Beowulf as a lamentation for the past: “It’s about how the things that are so precious to us in the present moment won’t always be around — the people we are with and the things we surround ourselves with. There is a kind of impermanence to life, which is what makes it precious.” This sentiment also pervades The Lord of the Rings, and Chase has captured the same feeling with sorrowful beauty throughout The Way of Edan.
Like The Lord of the Rings, Chase’s novel is epic in scope but has a personal feel. Chase smoothly shifts third person narration among several point of view characters in The Way of Edan, seeing the world through their eyes and helping the reader develop strong attachments to each of the main characters.
The time and care that Chase has spent writing The Way of Edan is evident throughout the novel. The Way of Edan is the most perfectly conceived and executed debut fantasy that I have read since The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Like Rothfuss, Chase’s writing is lyrical and evocative, without any of the stiffness sometimes associated with modern fantasy novels that strive too hard to achieve a classic feel.
Religion plays a pivotal role throughout The Way of Edan, as the kingdoms of Eormenlond descend into holy war. The title of the novel refers to the path of the god, Edan. Chase expertly captures the uneasy alliances that form between religious and political leaders, each seeking their own goals by taking advantage of the other.
I love a good soft magic system, and The Way of Edan delivers in spades, featuring mind melds, nature magic, miraculous healing, and much more. The scenes of magic instilled a sense of awe and mysticism that recalled the first time I read The Lord of the Rings as a child. There is a strong overlap between magic and religion in The Way of Edan, but religion does not have a monopoly on the magical arts.
The Way of Edan is surprisingly dark. Chase grabbed my attention from the opening prologue, giving realistic depictions of religious zealotry and violence. There are also a number of truly terrifying creatures dwelling in Eormenlond. Chase maintains an even pacing throughout the novel, introducing characters and worldbuilding in a natural fashion. I felt fully immersed in the story without ever becoming lost or confused, despite the complexity of the world and its large cast of characters. Grimdark fans will appreciate the gray morality embodied by several of the characters, in addition to those who appear objectively good or evil.
The Way of Edan strikes the perfect balance between modern and classic epic fantasy. Philip Chase manifests his deep love of literature in The Way of Edan, a lamentation that distills the best of fantasy from classics, such as Beowulf and The Lord of the Rings, through modern masterpieces like The Name of the Wind. Mercifully, Chase won’t make readers wait long for the next two volumes of his Edan Trilogy, which will be published later this year.
Return originally published at Grimdark Magazine.
Review: The Prophet of Edan
Reading The Prophet of Edan, the second book in Philip Chase’s Edan Trilogy, is a transcendent experience, epic in scope yet deeply personal.
The Prophet of Edan chronicles the War of the Way, a holy war launched by Bledla, Supreme Priest of the Kingdom of Torrlond, the self-declared Prophet of Edan who commands an army of enslaved dragons in his quest to conquer the land of Eormenlond. Bledla argues that his control over the dragons is “irrefutable proof of Edan’s blessing” in support of his blood-soaked war.
While The Prophet of Edan is full of exhilarating dragon-fueled battle sequences, this outward action is balanced by a delicate introspection that showcases some of Philip Chase’s most lyrical prose to date, especially as he recounts lead protagonist Dayraven’s journey of self-discovery.
Throughout literary history, ravens symbolize wisdom, magic, and understanding, often acting as psychopomps that connect the physical world with the spiritual realm. In Greek mythology, the raven is also a symbol of Apollo, the god of prophecy, providing a direct connection with The Prophet of Edan. Philip Chase is also heavily influenced by Welsh mythology, where ravens represent bravery during battle. Even today, a flock of ravens guards the Tower of London; a superstition dating back to the English Civil War states that, if the ravens are removed, the entire Kingdom of England will fall.
Dayraven’s path toward enlightenment is, for me, the highlight of The Prophet of Edan. Dayraven is torn between earthly pleasures and embracing his call toward something greater, afraid of losing his attachments while also recognizing the need to detach himself for the benefit of those he loves.
There is a strong Buddhist element to Dayraven’s training, which evokes the lyrical reflections of Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse’s masterpiece of self-discovery. The mystical introspection of The Prophet of Edan also reminds me of the journey of enlightenment in Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, where the main protagonist seeks inner truth in a world full of cruelty.
Dayraven’s internal struggles pit his own identity versus that of the elf-shard, which became embedded within him in The Way of Edan. Dayraven often feels like the elven will is somehow taunting or controlling him. As he strives for deeper meaning, Dayraven oscillates between fighting this magic inside him and accepting its presence.
Dayraven’s journey of self-discovery is set against the seemingly unstoppable Torrlond war machine, where Bledla exploits Torrlonders’ faith as a rationale for military and political conquest. Bledla’s outward manifestation of magic is juxtaposed with Dayraven’s internal quest toward finding the magic within himself. The conflict between Bledla and Dayraven also highlights the contrast between organized religion and a more personal spirituality, especially when the former becomes a perversion of the faith that it supposedly professes. In many ways, The Prophet of Edan also serves as a commentary on the inadequacy of any religion to decipher the full mysteries of the universe.
Moving beyond this spiritual commentary, another highlight of The Prophet of Edan is the relationship between Dayraven and Sequara, a young sorceress and future queen who is wise beyond her years. Sequara forms a special bond with Dayraven and helps him to find his own inner truth. I was truly touched by the development of their relationship throughout the book, which left me in tears by the end.
Philip Chase also excels in worldbuilding, having created an expansive fantasy world with Eormenlond, which is fully explored in The Prophet of Edan. The Prophet of Edan seems to have a greater influence from George R.R. Martin compared to The Way of Edan. In true style of A Game of Thrones, Philip Chase does an excellent job introducing us to the various cultures and politics across a sprawling world.
The pacing of The Prophet of Edan is excellent. I was a bit afraid that the plot would wrap up too cleanly at the end of this second volume, leaving little to be explored in the third book of the trilogy. Fortunately, my concern turned out to be misplaced, and Philip Chase left me eager to continue with Return to Edan, the final volume of the trilogy which will be published this fall.
The Prophet of Edan is an instant classic, the perfect follow-up to Philip Chase’s masterful debut, The Way of Edan, and a glorious lamentation that somehow transcends its own epic scope.
Review originally published at Grimdark Magazine.
Review: Return to Edan
Finding the right words to describe Return to Edan, the darkest and most ambitious volume of the Edan Trilogy by Philip Chase, feels like an exercise in futility. This final installment of the Edan Trilogy is a book of extraordinary thematic depth, also delivering an unputdownable story with a well-realized cast of relatable characters.
The novel opens with a nine-year-old village boy, Oran, trying to survive in a cruel world following the death of his father. A mysterious figure enters the scene, bringing a sudden transformation to a local thug and demonstrating firsthand the power of the famed Prophet of Edan.
Return to Edan has a melancholy feel reflected in the dark color palette of its stained-glass cover art. The cover depicts a new point-of-view character, the nature-loving girl Seren, who quickly becomes a highlight of the novel. She suffers terrible tragedy but may also hold a key toward salvation. Meanwhile, the sorceress Sequara and her friends are searching for the lead protagonist, Dayraven, who has lost his identity and much of his memory in becoming the fated Prophet of Edan.
The first two books of the trilogy, The Way of Edan and The Prophet of Edan, leaned heavily into a Buddhist-influenced journey of self-discovery. Return to Edan retains this Buddhist influence but also serves as a Christ allegory with numerous Biblical parallels. As Dayraven travels the land, he preaches very Christ-like lessons on the importance of love:
“The path of love is not always easy, and it is not always clear, though it will reward you like no other. You may stumble away from it at times, but it is always awaiting your return. It requires courage and determination to stay on it. You must be true to yourself and your deepest beliefs. Most of all, it requires being the person you choose to love.”
Dayraven also uses his powers to reveal the sins of evildoers, forcing them to confront the horrors of their own actions:
“A long wail escaped the king’s mouth, which gaped in a rictus of agony. When his scream ceased, the man gasped for breath as he knelt and stared ahead with eyes that did not see.”
There is clear Biblical inspiration for this from both the Old Testament, “Though his hatred covers itself with guile, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly” (Proverbs 26:26), and the New Testament, “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known” (Luke 12:2).
But Philip Chase has given a grimdark twist to the typical Christ allegory, since the source of Dayraven’s powers is not goodness but rather a morally ambiguous elven power that could be evil in nature or simply indifferent to the affairs of humanity.
Dayraven’s power is not an intrinsic part of his existence: it is something foreign to him, embedded in his being, constantly threatening to take over. Dayraven wrestles mightily with the internal struggle that this creates, trying to harness the elven power for good. In this way, Philip Chase has also captured the essence of Frodo’s conflict in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, another Christ allegory where the power of the One Ring is an evil that threatens to consume Frodo’s own identity.
Like Frodo, Dayraven must consider if he is willing and able to make the ultimate sacrifice for others. Humanity is capable of such deep love and beauty but also terrifying evils. After the War of the Way from the last book, the world of Return to Edan is rife with violence and disease. An outside observer like the elf might justifiably ponder if a species that has caused so much suffering and destruction is truly worth saving. Is humanity just an irredeemable cancer on the face of the planet?
Grimdark fans will find much to love in Return to Edan. Set in a dark and brutal world, Philip Chase doesn’t shy away from realistic depictions of violence and the shadows of war. The rawness depicted in several scenes made me wince in pain. There is also moral ambiguity, as Dayraven’s powers are both wondrous and terrifying: he could end up being either a savior or a destroyer. In this sense, Philip Chase threatens to subvert the chosen one trope in a manner that could potentially go the way of Frank Herbert’s Dune Messiah.
Continuing the trend in the characters’ personal journeys, both eastern and western theologies are reflected in Philip Chase’s concept of Edan, which seems to encompass both the Buddhist notion of nirvana and the Biblical notion of paradise (“Eden”) as a state without suffering or sin. But Chase also astutely captures the inherent tension between loving human attachments and the emotional detachment required to achieve such a state.
My review barely scratches the surface of Return to Edan. The Edan Trilogy can be read on multiple levels, and a complete analysis is more worthy of a Ph.D. dissertation than a short review such as this. But putting aside such in-depth analysis, I should emphasize that Philip Chase also delivers a perfectly paced story with beautiful prose and engaging, empathetic characters.
Taken as a whole, the Edan Trilogy is a modern masterpiece, a lamentation as timeless and beautiful as the stained glass depicted on each of its three covers. With the Edan Trilogy, Philip Chase proves that fantasy can achieve the highest echelon of literary greatness while delivering a gripping story, epic in scope and deeply personal in its impact.
Review originally published at Grimdark Magazine.