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Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster (Fantasy)

by Hugh Cook 

Publisher: Corgi (December 3, 1992)

Softcover 720 pages

Finished 11/9/2017

Amazon Listing 

  The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster is the notoriously difficult to find tenth book in The Chronicles of an Age of Darkness series (known as the Wizard War series in the US).  The first edition of it was barely published at all, while the second is available as a print-on-demand novel through Amazon for around $40. I first came across it as a free PDF on the author’s, Hugh Cook, website but that was taken down after his death from brain cancer in 2008.
2nd edition cover
The Chronicles of an Age of Darkness is a series of interconnected books all of which occur at the same time (or roughly the same time) and the events of each impact the others. This leads to some very interesting storytelling as in some cases you saw the impact (it would come across as a rumor in a novel), before the event was described in another book. Each novel centers on a different protagonist and that person would often show up in another novel in a brief reference or as a minor character. So while every book technically stands alone, they all coalesce to make a greater whole- a literary collage.  He must have had one hell of a chart to keep track of it all, but it was one of the things that made this series stand out.
        Originally the series was to be twenty books long, with two additional series planned The Chronicles of an Age of Wrath, and The Chronicles of an Age of Heroes- making for a total of 60 books. Unfortunately poor sales aborted that idea and Cook wrote The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster to wrap up the entire series- after which he put it completely behind him. I had contacted him in the mid-2000s offering to work with him on the series, releasing some more as ebooks – a very new idea then- but he was uninterested. Which is understandable, he had recently been diagnosed with cancer, but he also stated that he had moved past the series. Perhaps that was presumptuous of me, but I loved the world and the characters in it and I did not want it to end- especially not with this novel.
Cover of the 1st book-
American Edition
   I first encountered the series when it was published as Wizard War in the late 80s. I was immediately drawn in by the imagination, scope of the book, and the wonderful descriptions. What attracted me most though was the amorality which hung heavy in the setting. This was no typical fantasy fight against the forces of darkness. The protagonists were not shining examples of goodness and heroism. These were men, neither good nor evil (or should I say, both good and evil), struggling against each other, each with their own agenda. Reading it was a breath of fresh air.  As I continued with the series, I saw how one intimately slid into the other, like a great jigsaw puzzle. In fact there are many little things mentioned in the first and second books which are much larger deals in the tenth. Cook really did construct a beautiful literary architecture.
2nd book- Original cover
           The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster centers around the character of Guest Gulkan- The Weaponmaster, also known as The Emperor in Exile- and his father Onosh Gulkan – The Witchlord- as they rule their empire, lose it due to internal strife, then attempt to regain it. Guest Gulkan has appeared as a minor character in several other novels- The Wordsmiths and the Warguild (book 2), The Women and the Warlords (book 3), The Walrus and the Warwolf (book 4, though he isn't named) and The Wishstone and the Wonderworkers (book 6)-  always with a sinister agenda which is finally revealed.  He begins the novel at the age of 14 (earlier than any other story in the series) and ends with his quest for power uniting many of the plot elements of the series. His eventual success is of a different order from that of the previous protagonists, giving him enough control over his world to change it entirely and shows us the end of the Age of Darkness- and probably therein lies the problem with this book.

2nd book- American cover
  I had several problems with this novel. The first being, despite its length (724 pages), it appears to be hastily written. There is a great deal of repetition of past events (some of them which happened only three or four pages earlier) and the titles of characters (some of which are quite long). Often the same information is repeated almost word for word on the same page. It seems very sloppy, almost like a first draft. An odd thing is that this repetition appears to have gotten worse between the first and second editions. I know when he re-edited the book he was suffering from brain cancer and had vision problems, but it still needed to be smoothed out. He obviously just wanted to get it over with. Perhaps it's understandable with his dreams of a huge series blowing up. 
3rd book- Original cover
        This is also probably the only book in the series which could not be read as a stand-alone book. A lot of the action that we get is either covered entirely in other novels or is skipped over in a few lines. Especially towards the end, the entire story mostly relates Guest zipping to and fro across the world, stopping some place for a few years (covered in a few pages), and then moving on. It wraps up the series, but is not a good story by itself. It feels more like a synopsis in many places.

3rd book- American cover
And because of this, the character of Guest is not very fleshed out. He’s just there. We are told of how he grows and changes, but we don’t feel it. Everything is hastily assembled. The opening of the book is the Collisnon Empire, also the setting for the third book. In the previous novel we get a real feel for this land. It is very distinct, filled with old customs and its own sense of history. All of this is missing here. It feels like just some generic country, not the interesting place described before. The flavor is missing from this novel and we are left with a bland concoction.
            Again I love this series and I’m happy I have this book. It’s simply that the last of the novels is also the least of them.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

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