Sunday, April 8, 2012

Ian Irvine's Three Worlds Cycle

I've been reading fantasy since I was about eight and luckily my school and town library always had a great range for me to borrow from. I didn't actually buy my first book until I was about 17 or 18 years old. I can't really remember why I decided to buy one; it wasn't as if there was a particular one I really wanted. After browsing the shelves I eventually settled on A Shadow on the Glass by Ian Irvine on no other recommendation than the blurb and cover.

To this day that book (the whole series really) is the best book I have ever read, hands down.

A Shadow on the Glass is the first book of The Three Worlds Cycle which currently consists of two quartets and a trilogy, with another single novel (or possibly a trilogy) in the works. It's set on the three linked worlds of Santhenar, Aachan and Tallallame. The cycle details the struggle for survival between four human species: old humans, Aachim, Faellem and Charon, as well as a variety of other creatures, both intelligent and beastly.

It's often referred to as a Darwinian fantasy. It's got nothing to do with the perennial (and sadly jaded) struggle of good vs evil. It's about the struggle for existence between four human species, each believing it has the better right to exist. In this regard I find the series so much more realistic and relate-able - no one is intrinsically evil, they are just trying to survive and prevail. It also means there is a much more even spread in terms of character development and perspectives. The worlds are so rich with history, geography and politics and even though it has it's fair share of magic and fantasy elements, it feels much more earthy and real than other epic fantasies.

The first quartet is A View From the Mirror and is in my opinion the stand out.  Karan and Llian are the most amazing characters, although admittedly a little archetypal. The whole quartet is such a raw and desperate struggle for these characters - it really brings out every part of their personality. There is a great mix of the grandiose that we expect in fantasy and the common and everyday. 
"One there were three worlds, each with their own human species. Then, fleeing out of the void came a fourth species, the Charon. Desperate, on the edge of extinction, they changed the balance between the worlds forever .
Karan, a sensitive with a troubled heritage, is forced to steal an ancient relic in repayment of a debt. It turns out to be the Mirror of Aachan, a twisted, deceitful thing that remembers everything it has ever seen.
At the same time, Llian, a brilliant chronicler, is expelled from his college for uncovering a perilous mystery. Thrown together by fate, Karan and Llian are hunted across a world at war, for the Mirror contains a secret that offers each species survival, or extinction!"

The second quartet is The Well of Echoes and is set two centuries after the time of The View from the Mirror, when the world is greatly changed as a result of what happened at the end of The Way between the Worlds. It's a dark world where the entire society is regimented for just one thing: survival in the endless war against the winged lyrinx. This series benefits from the same setting and history as the first quartet, but due to certain events and the passage of time, there's a fresh load of characters and new world-scale problem to solve.

It took me a little longer to warm to this quartet, but when I did ... wow! I think these are the books when Irvine's imagination and mastery really shine. The complex system of magic combined with a previously absent use of machines/mechanics is original, logical and intriguing. While the story and the characters are not dissimilar to the first quartet, there is no sense of repetition. There is a lot of foreshadowing and even ... aftshadowing? ... I totally made that up just now, but the past becomes just as mysterious as the future. The ending of this quartet is utterly brutal. Throughout the whole series Irvine treats his poor characters like punching bags and they get the worst of it at the end of Chimera.
"Two hundred years after the forbidding was broken, Santhenar is locked in war with the lyrinx - intelligent, winged predators from the void who will do anything to gain their own world. Despite the development of battle clankers and mastery of the crystals that power them, humanity is losing. The enemy is destroying their nodes of power, one by one. 

Tiaan, a lonely crystal worker in a clanker manufactory, is experimenting with an entirely new kind of crystal when she begins to have extraordinary visions. The crystal has woken her latent talent for geomancy, the most powerful of all the Secret Arts, and the most perilous. Geomancy is likely to kill her before she masters it. It is a talent that allies and enemies alike are desperate to control.

Falsely accused of sabotage by her rival, Irisis, Tiaan flees for her life. She is also hunted by the lyrinx, Ryll, who plans to use her in his dreadful flesh-forming experiments. Only geomancy can save her. Struggling to control her talent, Tiaan follows her visions all the way to Tirthrax, greatest peak on all the Three Worlds, where a nightmare awaits her ..."


Next is the Song of the Tears trilogy. These books differ greatly from the previous two quartets in terms of the pattern and feel. Taking place only ten years after Chimera, this trilogy features many of the same characters but with the world vastly changed (again). It was a little hard to transition into this trilogy because it felt like such a big departure from the previous books and I have to admit there were one or two lame elements.

However, the most satisfying and genius part was the unexpected return and resolution of characters from the previous two quartets. While The Well of Echoes was filled with questions that seemed would go unanswered, Song of the Tears finally delivers with more than I ever expected. The conclusion of the final book had me in rapturous spasms and yelling 'NO FREAKING WAY' and then sobbing a lot and then back to the spasms.
"After ten years of servitude, Nish is about to be released from the blackest prison of the maimed God-Emperor, Jal-Nish Hlar, his corrupt father. Jal-Nish holds the two sorcerous quicksilver tears, Gatherer and Reaper, and with them controls all of the Secret Art. All opposition having been crushed, he has begun to remake the world in his depraved image. 

The only hope of overthrowing him lies in Nish, whom the oppressed peoples of the world see as a messianic figure, the Deliverer for, as Nish was dragged off to prison a decade ago, he wildly promised to return and cast down his father. 

Unfortunately Nish is powerless and without allies. But worse, his father wants Nish to become his lieutenant and become as corrupt as he is. Jal-Nish offers Nish everything he has ever desired and, faced with the unbearable alternative of another ten years in prison, he isn't sure he can resist the temptation."
The final book/trilogy (formerly known as The Fate of the Children) will return to Karan and Llian and their children, which I am immeasurably excited about as they remain my favourite characters from the cycle.

If you haven't given this series a go, I cannot recommend it enough - utterly brilliant! When I get around to re-reading them for the third time I will have to do a proper review for each one.

Fore more info, check out Ian Irvine's website:


  1. Fabulous post Josh, I've just placed an order for the first 4 - you owe me money damn you! LOL ;) I have the first one on kindle, but the covers are so awesome that I think this is going to be a series to get 'for real'. I'll let you know how I get on!

    1. That's great! But now the pressure is on lol. Hope you enjoy them!

  2. They sound great. Must check them out.

  3. Hi...I'm hopping over from the A to Z challenge. Lovely post...good luck with the challenge.

    Donna L Martin

  4. This sums up exactly how I feel about these books. theyre just utterly amazing and hands down the best books ever. I felt the same way in the last book, going HOLY SH--- REALLY?! !!!!!!!

    Thank you.