From Death Ray #21.
Kevin J. Anderson/Orbit
A book that promises rip-roaring nautical adventure, and then resolutely stalls for time and page count.
This is a simple book set in a simple world with a simple story. But, like a soap opera, though it is pretty much devoid of any kind of artistic merit, it entertains, and you could never accuse Anderson of running a sloppy ship – The Edge of the World sails at a fair clip.
As far as epic fantasy goes, The Edge of the World is not a bad book. It is, however, guilty of false advertising. You think you are going to get a nautically based tale of exploration, as the ship Luminara sets out to rediscover the holy land, but it is soon destroyed, and though a new expedition is proposed, that ship is destroyed also, leaving us to wait until book two before things get going. Instead of the offered adventure we’re given nearly 600 pages of war preparations as the two opposing kingdoms of Tierra and Urab come to blows following a series of terrible misunderstandings.
These kingdoms are the most cardboard of creations. Based very obviously on Christian Europe and the Muslim East, both follow similar religions with key, aggression-causing differences. It’s an artificial set-up, Anderson’s kingdoms exist in a vacuum, have complications regarding their scale and, most egregiously, the Arab-analogue, though possessed of a fine and cultured ruler, is populated by hateful zealots. There’s a conscious effort to balance the two sides, but inexorably, the scales of evil swing to the disfavour of the southern desert dwellers.
Anderson’s gift is in keeping all this moving at such a pace that you don’t care, but if you slow down for even a moment it all becomes painfully clichéd: the wise King, the equally wise Emir-type, the avoidable war, the white woman taken into slavery to become queen of the heathens, the giant octopus, the childhood sweethearts… It’s a long list of very obvious orientalist fantasy tropes. An uncomplicated pleasure, perhaps, but life’s too short when there are so many great books out there.