A Very Sophisticated Heroic Fantasy
This is one of the most sophisticated fantasy books I’ve ever read. It’s one of the few fantasy books I’ve come across that indulges in an eloquent, poetic style of writing that suggests rather than explicitly states its meaning. In fact, I was a little disoriented by the style at first, but as I continued along with the adventure of Tempus and Nikodemus in their pursuit of a ruthless, powerful foe, I found myself becoming more and more comfortable simply surrendering to the rhythm of the language.
Much that happens in “Beyond Sanctuary” is of the “blink and you’ll miss it” variety. There are moments of “real time” intensity to be sure, but, especially early in the novel, hugely important plot points can be swept up within a few sentences or paragraphs. A torture scene, for example, takes about three sentences even though it’s a moment that has repercussions that echo until the end of the book. These are all interesting choices on the part of the author, Janet Morris, and as I write this, reflecting on the book, I have to concede that they were effective ones. The “torture” scene is just as reverberating as if Morris had spent pages and pages skillfully relating every painful detail. To achieve the same effect with an extremely minimal amount of words is remarkable.
This is not to say that the book is short. It’s a lovely, hefty volume that is packed with instance after instance of concise and effective storytelling. Reading it is a very hypnotic experience, and some of the sections only seem to make sense within the context of historical literature. Tempus evokes personalities from the Illiad--not one character in particular but the general perfume and thunder that must have accompanied a hull full of warriors sailing off to war in a rickety vessel. “Beyond Sanctuary” is a story of heroism, but more importantly the responsibility of leadership, as well as the burden. This novel is not the typical Hollywood dreck that paints everything in broad strokes of white or black and leaves no concern over contradiction or irregularity at the end. Instead, Morris elects to live in the gray zones, and the consequences of that choice cause the characters to linger like ghosts at the fringes of your thoughts. There is more glory in reality than in the cartoon version of heroism we’re too often forced to swallow.
If you’re still not quite sure of the ride you’re in for, just have a look at the expertly matched cover artwork. The jumble of warriors tumbling from the heavens in a knot of limbs, horses and chaos is exactly the kind of fray you’re likely to find yourself in the midst of within the pages of “Beyond Sanctuary.” Don’t be too discouraged if you pick up this book and find yourself confused for the first ten or twenty pages. It takes a while to find the thread, but nothing good comes easy.
This edition is the “Author’s Cut” of the original 1985 release, and it’s interesting to note that although this book is approaching its 30th anniversary, it seems as fresh as a new release. “Beyond Sanctuary” evokes a classic mythos and succeeds in achieving that rarest of literary feats: timeless relevance. Pick it up and enjoy the ride!