The 2014 Barneys: Day 10

Barney Award for most scary created world:

Actually, I find a lot of fantasy and sci-fi worlds kinda scary. Post-apocalyptic ones are the worst. I mean, how are you supposed to live without the internet and Starbucks and grocery home delivery and freezers? I’d probably get by for a while if I stocked up on wine and found a solar-powered charger for the Kindle, but at some point you do actually have to get outside and, like, start growing turnips and keeping goats. And really, if the apocalypse comes with zombies, well, include me out.

But even your regular standard-issue fantasy gives me the heeby-jeebies. There you are, enjoying a flagon of ale in some quiet tavern or other, and a bunch of over-muscular warrior-types starts overturning tables and waving swords around. Hide yourself in a quiet cottage somewhere, and marauding orcs rampage through. And don’t skulk in the local castle because the next thing you know, there’s a bunch of dragons singeing the hair off your head. And don’t go down to the dungeons, OK? Just don’t. You really do not want to know what’s down there.

But occasionally an author dreams up a world that’s seriously malevolent even without orcs, zombies and dragons, and Havenstar by Glenda Larke features such a one.  The premise is that a cataclysmic event tore the world apart, spreading chaos everywhere apart from a few islands of stability which are kept that way by rigorous adherence to a religion-based system of rules. The ley lines are the most significant element; these are the ever shifting rivers of chaotic energy which criss-cross the landscape, the source of power for Carasma, the lord of chaos and his minions. Cross a ley line, and, if you’re unlucky, you’ll be tainted, irrevocably changed in some monstrous way, and you can’t even touch another person without painful consequences. And don’t think you’re safe on those islands of stability, because the fear of taint and the encroachment of chaos keep the population in terrified subjugation to the religious elite. Nice world, eh?

But the author populates this backdrop with wonderful, believable characters, gives them frightening dilemmas to address and obstacles to overcome, and the intelligence and spirit to make it possible. It makes for a magnificent story, which I can’t recommend too strongly. This was first published in 1999, the author’s debut novel, and the publisher immediately sank like a stone, taking the book with it. It’s only recently been republished, so – enjoy!

My review

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