Fantasy books seem to fall into three categories: overrated, underrated, and completely ignored. I have read some excellent fantasy books only to find out that a lot of people have never heard of them. So today I am reviewing a trilogy I consider to be an excellent underrated fantasy adventure.
Themes Explored: reincarnation, curses, tyrants, the rule of law, evil, martyrdom, magic, mysticism, witch lore, religion, loyalty, honor, skepticism, acceptance, good vs evil, romance
Synopsis: Wyl Thirsk just wants to be happy and to fulfill his duties to King Magnus. But Magnus marries a foreign woman they have a cruel son, Prince Celimus. When Celimus succeeds Magnus, everything changes. Celimus lusts after the neighboring kingdom and wants to conquer the known world. And he will not let anyone stand between him and his goal, not even his loyal General Wyl. Thus Wyl’s life changes forever and he find himself embarking on an unusual and traumatic adventure to end the reign of a despot.
Review: The Quickening is a dark fantasy trilogy, the main character is put through some torturous experiences. Some reviewers have called this trilogy needlessly violent and graphic. Well the books do have some rather graphic torture and battle scenes, but I did not think the books were any more violent than some other fantasy books. After reading The Sword of Truth Series, A Song of Ice & Fire, The First Law Series, and The Farseer Trilogy, McIntosh’s The Quickening comes across as quite tame. I enjoyed the trilogy and think the main narrative is unique. The trilogy begins in Morgavia, a land on the brink of trouble. It begins with a young general of a legion struggling in a war against the neighbouring kingdom. Then the story morphs into a tale about the frightening, emotional, and mystical life of General Wyl Thirsk.
The Quickening refers to a magical curse that is bestowed upon Wyl, the main character. Myrren, Morgavia’s last living witch, possesses a powerful kind of magic that she transfers to Wyl right before dying. She dies via torture and gave Wyl her power because he was the last person to ever show her kindness. Though Wyl does question his actions a little later on in the narrative. This power ostensibly keeps Wyl from dying, the catch is that right before he dies, Wyl’s soul is transported into the body of his latest murderer. So poor Wyl gets to swap bodies with several unsavory characters over the course of the trilogy. Essentially this is a body snatcher tale reworked under the guise of magical intervention. I have yet to read another fantasy trilogy that includes this particular spin, so I thought it was an interesting twist. Wyl disagrees with this assessment, he is very torn up about this “gift”.
Why is Wyl constantly being killed? Well that is an excellent question. While Morgravia appears to be united, it is actually factually divided. The country has to follow the sadistic king Celimus, but Wyl Thirsk is the people’s hero. Wyl find himself in a predicament: he is bound by position and duty to obey Celimus, but his inclination is depose Celimus. Hence, Wyl finds himself the instigator of a one man revolution and a lot of people want to kill him. There is a lot of death and characters are beheaded, crucified, and burnt alive. Like I said, there is a fair amount of gore throughout the course of the story. And throughout all this turmoil, Wyl has the unenviable task of trying to figure out the purpose of his “gift” and determining where he is supposed to end up.
While the story is engrossing and the world building fantastic, McIntosh’s characters are rather two dimensional. Wyl is rather well fleshed out, but he is the main character. Most of the other characters are either as pure as the driven snow or the human incarnation of pure evil. There are very few “grey” characters. King Celimus would have been a more compelling villain if his characterization was a little more sophisticated and less blunt. The most sinister villains are the ones that appear charming and sincere and then commit horrendous acts, but still make you like them. I prefer subtle villains, I find them much more frightening. A majority of the secondary characters are well-crafted and to help to make up for the deficiencies in Celimus. However, I think the trilogy would have been stronger is McIntosh had focused more on the relationship between Wyl and Celimus.
The country of Morgravia is very similar to feudal Europe with some magic added. This is not surprising since most fantasy worlds are modeled around the feudal past. Based on some of the descriptions, I think Morgravia is based off of 16th Century Europe. The world building is the strongest aspect of the trilogy, McIntosh excels at landscape descriptions. Sometimes it feels as if Morgravia is a real country. I am always glad when an author is able to make me “see” a country, I dislike fantasy series that focus solely on characterization. In order to understand a character, it is important to know where they are coming from. And this can only happen if the author includes some world building.
Overall, I think this is a great trilogy. Though the ending is incredibly happy. It feels a little disjointed because the tone is much more lighthearted than the rest of the story. However, considering what Wyl goes through, he deserved a happy ever after kind of ending. These books are not for everyone, there are several scenes of descriptive torture/brutality/war crimes. If that is not something you generally read, than you will not like this trilogy. I did not think the books were that bad, but I had already read several gory fantasy series before tackling this trilogy.