“‘My power shall be reborn in the one who awaketh and beholdeth the world anew. It is this one who shall save Eormenlond from destruction, and such will be the true Prophet of Edan.'”
If one were to create a poll of the handful of “most-anticipated” Indie fantasy books that will be / have been released in 2023, I have no doubt that the dark fantasy “The Way of Edan” by Philip Chase would be appearing on many of those polls.
Part of a planned trilogy, with all three books therein, to be released in 2023, “The Way of Edan” is the opening salvo in the “Edan Trilogy”, a series that has been decades in the making, as per the author.
In my opinion, it was well worth the wait.
Several Third Person POVs are utilized to weave a sweeping tale. This tale encompasses a holy war based on avarice for power and ulterior motives, along with genuine zeal and religious fanaticism; a young boy who dreams of following in his famed warrior father footsteps, but learns that destiny may have far greater planned for him; and the heir to a great queen who must prove that she is worthy of the high office she is bequeathed, by testing herself as a diplomat, a peacemaker, a spy, a healer, and a ultimately as a leader.
While a group of high priests, all with very different motivations and desires, will grapple over how best to guide the Way (faith) of Edan towards ultimate supremacy, before all is lost.
Chase’s tale is grandiose, as ambitious as something like “Lord of the Rings”, but reads in surprisingly intimate fashion, as all the separate storylines both large and smaller and expertly woven together, so that the reader has the entire scope of what is happening.
On the macro scale, which is the holy war, at first one might believe there was an inciting event, but truly, the war has been long in the planning.On face, King Malruan of Caergilion refuses to punish the murders of three priests, who were sent to convert the Caergilions to the Way of Edan.
This leads to King Earconwald II of Torrland, urged by the Supreme Priest of the Way – Bledla – opting to wage a holy war, chiefly (it seems) in retaliation for the slain priests, and for idolaters and heathens not submitting to the Way of Edan.
The fanatical Bledla, the most high ranking, and powerful magically gifted priest in the world, genuinely believes he is the coming of the Second Prophet of Edan.
“‘Even this place of torment takes on beauty when it serves Edan’s purpose.'”
But Bledla’s subordinate high priests do not all seem completely devoted to Bledla’s cause or vision, despite their outward stance.
Out of perhaps loyalty, fear, or simply hiding their own plans until they can come to fruition, veteran and respected elderly High Priest Arna, and ambitious, savvy High Priest Joruman, kept their own designs for the future of the Way, close to the vest, and eye one another, and Bledla, carefully.
Meanwhile Earconwald has no real faith in Edan. He merely wants to be the king that rules it all, conquer and subjugate all other kingdoms that might oppose him, and the holy war is the pretense that gives him the means to do it. But this pair team up to accomplish their aims, with the plan to betray each other when the time is right, and their mutual goals have been accomplished.
Queen Faldria of Asdralad knows war is coming. She knows that the kingdoms of Caergilion, Adanon, and then the whole of Eormlond will fall in holy war if not stopped. She must also protect her own island nation, and the Andumaic faith. Her queendom’s strength is not strength of arms, but rather in tact, compassion, healing, statecraft, and magic.
“Memories were all little lies strung together to confer the impression that a life had a story with its own meaning, that it existed apart from the energy from whence it came and whither it would return.”
So Faldria knows she has a part to play in potentially stopping the impending wholesale slaughter. Faldria has chosen an heir from among the ranking families in her realm: the sorceress Sequara.
Sequara must set out into danger, to attempt to draw moody and suspicious rulers to the cause of fighting oppression and team with those they mistrust, and to find magical assistance to face the awesome power of Bledla and the gaggle of high priests who follow him.
The help that is needed most? Galdor, chief counsellor and wizard in the kingdom of Ellon.
“‘The truth is, it’s easier to see the justice in people you deem to be like you, and far easier to find the wrong in those who differ.'”
At the same time, in the land of the Mark, in the village of Kinsford, Dayraven’s mother Edelith, said to be magically gifted, is long dead. But Dayraven has his father, Edgil, a famed fighter, his friend Imharr, bonded to Dayraven’s family, and Dayraven’s great-aunt Urd, a formidable sorceress, by his side.
Yet when Dayraven has a fateful encounter in the woods, it changes his life forever, and makes him a target of priests of the way, like the sinister Bagsac. Dayraven must gather his courage, wits, and other talents he possesses, and be ready to play his unique role in the coming war.
“‘Courage is when you fear shame more than death.'”
In terms of characterization in “The Way of Edan”, Chase gives the reader everything you could possibly ask for, that many fantasy readers profess they love in a novel. We are treated to POVs from both villains and heroes.
There are characters that are abjectly “good”, so you can root for them unabashedly. They are characters that are utterly detestable, even sometimes comically so, that you can boo and hiss at, delight in their failures, and wring your hands over their triumphs.
There are also enough grey and morally ambiguous characters that lend that shade of realism and complexity to the book that avoid the entirety of the cast from appearing too tropey, and really added to the overall dark fantasy feel of the book, which I loved.
Chase does draw his characters very well indeed. If you’ve read any of my reviews, and if you’ve read the book, despite how nice and kind-hearted the protagonist Dayraven was, or how altruistic and brave characters like Imharr and Sequara are, you can imagine that by far, my fav was Joruman.
Joruman’s intellect, capacity for mayhem, schemes, vision, and flexible morality, made him the one character I could not get enough of, and wished for more page time from him. The two Dweorg brothers were also a hit for me, and highly entertaining.
I also really liked Sequara’s aloofness, air of detachment, and mystery, despite her definitely being a noble character. I’m wondering if her austerity will change in future novels, and if it does, how, and why.
The length of time the author spent honing his writing craft, ruminating on the world he created, and fabricating a phenomenal universe that, at first glance, appears to be as deep and satisfying as that of some of the most heralded imaginary worlds ever created, such as Middle Earth, Westeros, Athera, etc. has definitely paid off.
We have elves (a somewhat terrifying and fascinating version, what little we glimpse of them), dwarves (dweorgs), aglaks (troll-like creatures) and some completely terrifying and deplorable things that slime on their bellies, that readers can absolutely revel in and be disgusted by! And that’s just the beginning!
Stupendous and fantastic histories, prophecies, lore, religions, cultures, races, languages (including words spoken in those languages on the page, for things such as incantations, or when characters regale one another with tales of heroism), poetry, song…Chase is a true bard whose homage to the oral tradition of cultures such as the Norse, and whose exceptional imagination, style, and ability in creating these elements in a fantasy novel that are seamlessly woven into the tapestry of the book, is reminiscent of masters such as Tolkien.
“The old tales take us to faraway times and places, but they’re also where we come from. They tell us how we got here.”
The attention to detail and loving care with which Chase describes especially pastoral settings, armour and weapons, and classic inn-by-the wayside for weary travellers on the many sojourns through the countryside that occur in the book, will delight lovers of Jordan-esque high fantasy.
I love soft-magic systems, and Chase excels here too. Along with all the fantastical creatures, the main magic power, that of ‘the gift’, is wielded by not only priests of the Way, but by various religious and non-religious persons from different factions, and walks of life, in the book. There is randomness to who possesses the gift, that makes things exciting and unpredictable.
Perhaps the most interesting feature is that the power seems almost limitless, and in the hands of those using it, potentially horrific in how it can manifest. I really look forward to future novels in the series, to see just how destructive, or salvaging, the power of the gift can be.
Some of my favourite themes, and those I find most diverting, can be found in “The Way of Edan”. Prejudice, bigotry, faith, and religious fanaticism (including self-flagellation), obsession, fear, hatred, tragedy, pain, greed, camaraderie, found family, loyalty, heroism, glory, and more are explored in the novel, and handled very well.
The central theme, of the war – waged physically, verbally, emotionally – over religion and faith, that often arises when one side believes theirs is the only answer, their way the only way to worship, and the trappings around their faith the only hierarchy that makes sense, is a themes that I will always be irresistibly drawn to. The jeopardy when we ‘other’ people of different, or non-faiths, and label them ‘apostates’ and ‘idolaters’, that must be forcefully converted, or destroyed, with no middle ground.
The struggle of humankind to preserve the best elements of organized religions – a force for good in so many ways – while rejecting the evil and perversion that religion can be used to shield or justify, and the impurity of the human fallibility of those who are responsible (on earth) of leadership in the respective faith. The inherent dangers when mortals believe themselves the ‘anointed ones’, setting themselves so far above others they are godlike.
These are the kinds of issues Chase begins to tackle in “The Way of Edan”, and I can’t wait to see where he takes them in future installments.
The pacing of this novel is excellent, with time for the touching moments of friendship, family, loss, love, and hope, exposition, songs and poetry, balanced with lots of political and religious intrigue, tension, portentous magic, humour, and very very dark moments, including some shocking, thrilling and violent scenes.
Chase clearly takes inspiration from masters of writing ancient fighting like John Gwynne, with no reticence whatsoever of killing off characters expediently, and unexpectedly. From the very first pages of the fabulous and unnerving prologue, Chase shows the reader that no character is safe, blood will spray, and the author is ready to put his characters through harrowing, ghastly experiences, up to and including their early and un-looked for demise.
I need to quickly add here, that the prologue in the book is one of the better ones I’ve found in Indie Fantasy.
The battle scenes were particularly well done in the book, capturing both the glory and the repellant nature of combat.
“Now he understood whose will the drumbeats called him to obey. With this realization, he perceived the great pride illuminating the determined faces around him. In the eyes of his fellow soldiers glowed a strange joy. They were ready to kill and die, to leap into an abyss to get to the foe. They were waiting for the man on the horse to tell them to do it.”
The prose works perfectly for this type of book. Accessible, yet punctuated with more formal and obsolescent words that lead to immersion in make-believe worlds. I have included some of my favourite passages in this review, but there are plenty that I adored, and that remained with me long after I finished the book. If one considers the poetry, told in a manner suitable for such verses, which are in more archaic form, “The Way of Edan” merges classic, lyrical words with modern ones, in highly effective fashion.
I believe most of the criticisms of “The Way of Edan” will centre around some of the well-worn tropes. Especially the “chosen-one”, unaware of his value, from a small village, who seems syrupy good, surrounded by loyal friends, etc. Rest assured though, that if one can overcome any distaste or annoyance with this, you will be rewarded with a marvellous dark fantasy book that incorporates, for me, all the best of what I love about reading the genre.
I think there’s something for almost everyone to enjoy here, from engrossing characters, compelling themes, engaging storytelling, spectacular action sequences, and that classical fantasy feel, with attainable prose, that makes for a great read.
“The Way of Edan” is currently vying with Eve Koguce’s “Finding Your Way”, J.E. Hannaford’s “The Skin”, Tim Hardie’s “A Quiet Vengeance” and Daniel Jackson’s “Aiduel’s Sin” for my favourite Indie SFF book of the year.
I can’t envision a scenario that, although only one quarter of 2023 is completed, that this masterpiece by Philip Chase won’t still figure in the discussion of my best Indie SFF of 2023.
A rare book that, in my estimation, deserves the accompanying hype. HIGHLY recommended.