The North Beyond

The North Beyond is one of those books that will change your life.  You’ll never forget the first time you read it and you’ll return to it time and again because it’s a whole world in words, as wide and wonderful as any realm of fantasy yet as familiar as your own back garden.  One dimension, two worlds; or two dimensions, one world?  Truth or legend, past or future, history or fantasy?

It’s fantasy, yes – but different from most of the currently popular examples of the genre.  Most emphatically not a Tolkien re-hash, it is neither a gore-fest nor anywhere on the zombie-werewolf-vampire axis!  Perhaps more typically, it features hints of a parallel universe, a post-apocalyptic setting, an intriguing ambiguity as to whether it’s set in the past or the future, a mystery and a quest.

This is fantasy that includes archaeological discovery, language, legend, the effects of climate change, farming, food, friendship and the dangers of not standing up for what we know to be right.  It has memorable characters that you will care about, powerful scenes, vivid descriptions and a richly-woven narrative.  It’s exciting as well as thought-provoking, genuinely original: a book, and a story, to live from the inside.

And yes, The North Beyond is fantasy in the sense that its entire setting is imaginary and there are things that happen during the story which would be inexplicable in life as we know it today.  However all its characters (bar one) are human beings like us, going about their daily business with varying degrees of success and with intentions good and bad.  They find themselves plunged into danger, and a crisis largely of their own making, because they have allowed the mistakes of the past to be forgotten and are therefore at risk of repeating them.  As in real life, it’s often the blameless who pay the price.

The North Beyond is published in four parts, described further below.  These volumes do not constitute the titles of a series because The North Beyond is not a tetralogy but one self-contained story.  It is published in separate books simply because of its length.  And now for some details on the four parts of the story: NumirantoroMaesrhonHaldur and Artorynas, together with some comments from readers.

 

Part 1: Numirantoro

What could possibly go wrong in Caradward, a rich, thriving, confident country?  But its heart is being eaten from within, where something rotten lurks.  Caradwardans may argue about the existence of the Starborn and disagree about their hopes for the future; but they have failed to realise that their biggest danger comes from the past.  They have allowed an ancient disaster to slip from memory; and those who cannot learn from history are at risk of repeating its errors, bringing the world they call home to the brink of ruin once more.

Conflicting ambitions bring distrust, distrust breeds anger, anger leads to fear and fear in turn spawns hate.  Numirantoro is caught between factions, between husband and father, light and darkness, Earthborn and Starborn, hope and despair.

Dare she believe Arval’s promise that there is always hope?  Will she remember his warning to be careful what she wishes for?  How fateful will her meeting with Arymaldur be?

 

Selected readers’ reactions

Brilliant read!  Magnificent… just couldn’t put it down…

…a wonderful world, full of fascinating characters and customs…

Has had me spellbound from the very beginning.

 

Part 2: Maesrhon

The tale continues with the story of Numirantoro’s younger son, Maesrhon: so alone, so different, haunted by dreams of the Wilderness, burdened by a mysterious choice he must one day make.

Why does Vorynaas hate him?  Vorynaas, restlessly scheming for ever more wealth and power.  Why is Arval watching over him?  Arval, guardian of two secret promises, always seeking for the knowledge that will unlock their meaning.

Growing from child to man, Maesrhon survives against all odds to cast doubt aside and take up his heritage.  Leaving the name of Artorynas to ring uneasily in Vorynaas’ ears he sets out on the perilous quest revealed to him by Arval, searching for hope on the long, dangerous road that leads to the north beyond.

 

Selected readers’ reactions

Even better than Part 1!  The suspense is truly gripping…

…a wonderfully descriptive and exciting story…

Compelling, engrossing, immersive…

 

Part 3: Haldur

The story now tells of a new country, Rihannad Ennar.  Serene, secure, blessed by the love of its people and Carapethan its lord, it is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of Maesrhon, the innocent breaker of its peace.

Carapethan finds himself beset by fear and unease.  Is his beloved land, hitherto untouched by troubles far to the south, now in danger?  Is Maesrhon concealing some mystery?  Maesrhon too is torn: caught between friendship with Carapethan’s son Haldur and the suspicion that a secret is being kept from him.  When he finds out the truth, past and future are turned on their heads; but whose past, whose future?

As Haldur journeys south on a desperate venture of his own, risking all for the safety of his homeland, Maesrhon too sets out.  Far to the north Rihannad Ennar may be, but it is not the north beyond.  For him, the quest continues and his goal is Asward donn’Ur, fabled dwelling-place of the Starborn.

 

Selected readers’ reactions

Magically beautiful landscape writing…

Another brilliant read!

…a wonderful world, full of fascinating characters and customs…

 

 

Part 4: Artorynas

Events now speed towards their conclusion as Caradward, Gwent y’m Aryframan and Rihannad Ennar hazard all in the endgame for survival.  Three promises kept, two prophecies fulfilled, one sacrifice offered, a vow forced to its terrible end.  And when a price must be paid, sometimes it is the wrong people who bear the cost.  No more secrets, said Artorynas… but there were.

When many lives are ruined and none left unchanged, how can anything ever be the same again?  Can the earth possibly endure, to renew itself once more?

If only the gate could stand half-open again, if only through it could come that air from another world: just a touch, a whisper, the merest breath from the north beyond!

 

Selected readers’ reactions

Worthwhile, wonderful writing.

A hidden gem!

…a wonderful story… also very thought-provoking…

Best book I’ve read in twenty-five years.