Bones of the Empire, by Jim Galford – Book Review By Fred Patten
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Bones of the Empire is Book 5 and the conclusion of Galford’s The Fall of Eldvar series. It connects the events in both Books 1 & 2, In Wilder Lands and Into the Desert Wilds, and Book 4, The Northern Approach. This is a continuous series, so it assumes that the reader is familiar with the events in the four prior novels. If you have not read them yet, you had better start with the first and read them in order. This is not a chore; the whole series is a single gripping adventure.
Eldvar is a world of humans, elves, dwarfs, talking dragons and more, including the wildlings who are anthropomorphic animals. The story’s focus on the wildlings is why the novels of The Fall of Eldvar have qualified for previous reviews. Most of the setting is similar to the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains. (Bones of the Empire debuted at Rocky Mountain Fur Con 2015 in Denver.) The Northern Approach was about Raeln (a wildling wolf) and On’esquin (an orc), the leaders of a group of desperate refugees from fallen Lantonne fleeing the conquering Turessi necromantic armies of zombie warriors, abandoning the refugees to set out alone to fulfill the prophecy to overthrow the necromancers. That group meets up with the party of wildlings, humans, fae-kin, and everything else led by Estin (a ring-tailed lemur wildling) and Feanne (a red vixen) from the first two novels. (The wraparound cover by Rukis features Estin, Feanne, and two fanged dire wolves.) The four volumes of the series come together for this finale.
The wildlings do include mixed-breeds:
“Feanne was a wildling, like Estin, a race of animal-people that most cities considered savage or unpredictable. In her case, that was fairly accurate. Feanne had grown up quickly, fighting to live through each day against hunters and worse. At a glance, anyone could see she was part fox in the most literal sense. Red fur covered most of her body, except her white tail tip, a white stripe of fur down her jaw and chest, and her black hands and feet. What few noticed until it was too late was that her claws were not those of a fox. Instead, her mixed ancestry had given her the deadly claws of a lioness and a similar temperament. Those claws were often sharpened and filed smooth when they stopped to rest, ensuring they were ready for the next fight. Even if one missed the weapons she preferred, it was harder to avoid noticing the scars that covered much of her body.” (pgs. 5-6)
As Bones of the Empire begins, Estin is harried between those of his group who want to stop and make a stand against the necromancers and their undead troops, and those who want to continue running and hiding from the warfare around them. Estin’s core group consists of six: himself and Feanne, the fae-kin woman Dalania (unclothed, green-skinned, and covered with living vines and leaves), the tall wolf wildling Raeln, and two humans: Yoska, elderly and untrustworthy, and Turess, from an unknown culture who does not speak anyone’s language. Turess is apparently over two thousand years old and is the founder of the Turessi necromancers, but he has turned against them.
Their prospects are bleak:
“Estin kept quiet until the wind’s chill began to make him shake, despite Feanne’s arms around him. He still had no desire to to go into that tent and see the hopelessness on Raeln and Dalania’s faces or hear Yoska’s lies.” (p. 10)
The six are soon separated again into two groups, Estin and Feanne whose adventures are told in the odd-numbered chapters, and Raeln plus the others whose story is in the even-numbered chapters. The back-cover blurb asks, “Can six people, who everyone – including the gods – has abandoned, possibly be enough to turn the tide of war?” The reader will guess that they can, but how? The adventure is long and complex. As a character says, “‘Things are always more complicated than people wish them to be.’” (p. 79)
My review of The Northern Approach said, “There is bloody swordplay, black sorcery, a new ally, a section that will remind you of Tolkien, ghosts, a human city that has tried to “make a deal” with the necromancers and more.” You get all of that again here, plus similar desperate maneuverings. There is a lot of pain, exhaustion, and humiliation. To quote one of the sections that will remind you of Tolkien, where they are about to enter ancient mine tunnels:
“‘You expect to use two-thousand-year-old mines safely?’ asked Raeln, glowering, his ears flattening back in annoyance. ‘I wouldn’t trust dwarven halls that old, let alone these.’
Turess seemed to understand the objection and said something more.
Yoska quickly translated, ‘Now he says you seem ignorant of his people’s fine crafting skills. They enlisted the most skilled of the dark elves and dwarves in their land. He believes the mines are intact. I also think ‘enlisted’ is a polite way of saying slave, yes?’” (p. 13)
The two groups eventually reunite, of course. While there is pain and despair and seemingly no hope, there is also wonder and glory. To quote (slightly censored) again, over a hundred pages from the end:
“A rumble shook the entire temple. When —– blinked, a massive shadow hung over —–. It was unmistakably a wolf, nearly twenty feet tall. The semitransparent wolf let out a howl that made —–‘s skin actually ache. As he watched, the barrier cracked on all sides and air began to rush back in. Somewhere outside the temple, —– could hear hundreds of wolves and bats howling and screeching in reply. Every one of the surviving werewolves dropped to their knees in supplication outside the courtyard.” (p. 403)
And to hint at another spoiler, the wildlings turn out to be more important than anyone imagines at first.
Believe it or not, after five books there is a definite conclusion – and a more-or-less happy ending. It’s been a long journey; five books, 2,373 pages, and, for those who started when In Wilder Lands was first published, five years. But the journey has been worth it.
So, Jim, what are you going you do now? (Actually, he says on his website: http://jgalford.com/)