Review of SURRENDER TO THE WILL OF THE NIGHT by Glen Cook
BOOK THREE OF THE INSTRUMENTALITIES OF THE NIGHT
Tor, November 2010
Piper Hecht has led the forces of the Patriarch, but politics continually changes and, with a new Patriarch, he's unemployed. In a world where warfare is continual, a good general is in high demand and he soon finds himself working for the increasingly unstable Grail Empress, planning a great crusade to recapture the holy lands. Meanwhile, an ancient god of winter is gathering strength in the north, and Hecht's oldest allies are consumed with finding a way to fight him--even if doing so means opening up the gates that have locked away the other old gods for centuries. Meanwhile, in the East, kings battle for control of the faithful and nomadic tribes look for plunder and conquest.
Although Hecht desires to lead the great crusade, he, and the Empress, have enemies closer at hand--including, especially, the new Patriarch who is working to undo many of the reforms Hecht has supported, and may actually be responsible for the deadly instrumentality (semi-divine entity) growing in strength beneath the holy city.
Author Glen Cook tells his story from the points of view of Hecht, his magical sister, Heris, an aging and angry desert-dweller, the mad empress and her sister, and a perfect master of a reform religion. Rather than follow a single narrative, the reader flits from glimpse to glimpse of a greater struggle, one in which each player sees only his part. It's an increasingly popular approach to fantasy, and one that allows the author to combine the intimacy of deep point of view with a broader reader understanding of the big picture generally.
SURRENDER TO THE WILL OF THE NIGHT is the third volume in a huge fantasy series. As such, it contains story lines that seem disconnected, that don't really seem important, and that involve characters of only modest interest. As a reader, I presume that these story lines will be tied together in future volumes (or are necessary culminations to plot points raised in earlier books.) The problem with this approach is that Cook ultimately spent most of his time dealing with story lines that don't directly relate to the major conflict with the dark god Kharoulke. I would have liked to see more of Heris and her plans and actions as these are what really changed history. In contrast, it's hard to believe that Hecht's generalship will result in a meaningful change in the corruption and greed associated with the patriarchal system.
Cook's fantasy world closely parallels that of medieval Europe with Arabic (and presumably Turkish) warlords controlling the ancient holy lands, an Eastern Empire confronting them, a western (Grail in Cook's story, Holy Roman in medieval history) empire battling for control of the papacy, and dozens of smaller kingdoms and principalities all pursuing their own interests in the context of a religious fervor.
I think Cook's decision to model his world on our own let him add complexity to the story and establish believable conflicts where good and evil are complicated and often confused. I do wish he'd given us more of the real battle against Kharoulke, and spent a bit less time dealing with Hecht's problems.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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