Originally Published in Beyond Bree, December 1992
Wizard's War is composed of four books, The Troll's Grindstone (1986),The Curse of Slagfid (1989), The Dragon's Carbuncle (1990), and The Lord of Chaos (1991). The books are placed within the context of Boyer's previous books, The Sword and the Satchel, The Elves and the Otterskin, The Thrall and the Dragon's Heart, and The Wizard and the Warlord. The main hero is a human or Scipling from a land called Skarpsey. The cultural state of the Sciplings is similar to that of the Scandinavians during the Dark Ages. Existing along with the Scipling realm, in the same place, but on a different plane, is the Alfar or elven realm. The Alfar are divided into two groups, the Ljosalfar or Light Elves and the Dokkalfar or Dark Elves. There is not much difference between these two kinds of elves and humans, except for the fact that the Dokkalfar cannot endure the sun, having spend many ages living underground. The Alfar have longer life than the Sciplings primarily because of carbuncles, tiny jewels with which they are born, which prolong their lives, making them nearly immortal. When an Alfar dies, the knowledge and personality of the owner remains within the carbuncle. If transplanted to another Alfar, that knowledge becomes available to the host. Occasionally, the carbuncle may possess the host, willingly or unwillingly. Switching between multiple personalities is possible. Conversations between two people in one host body are not uncommon. Although carbuncles do not occur in Sciplings, transfer of a carbuncle to a human will produce similar effects. The Alfar and Sciplings apparently have a common ancestry. As a result, they are all able to mate with each other and produce children. In addition to the carbuncles, each Alfar also has the ability to change form, known technically as the fylgja form, a particular animal with which each is most closely associated, for example, an owl, cat, or bear. Sciplings have no similar capability.
Although Sciplings are at a point culturally where they are losing their belief in magic, wizardry is alive and well in the Alfar realm. Three kinds of magic are practiced. Ljosalfar wizards are fire wizards and are organized as a guild. Dokkalfar wizards are ice wizards and are organized as a council. In addition, there is a more ancient form of magic, Rhbu magic. Rhbu magic is considered to be a dying art. Some Rhbus are believed to be hiding in the mountains.
Before Wizard's War begins, a lot has already happened. Two brothers, Fridmarr and Bodmarr, along with a Ljosalfar wizard, Gedvondur, got themselves involved with a Dokkalfar wizard Sokvir, which ultimately led to the domination of the local towns and villages by the Dokkalfar under the leadership of Sokvir. The Dokkalfar takeover was made possible by the desecration of a huge Rhbu magical earthwork, the Solvofirth Pentacle, composed of five sites, twenty miles apart. During the conquest, Bodmarr was killed and his Rhbu sword of death, Endalaus Daudi (Endless Death), was stolen by Sokvir. Fridmarr, who disappeared, was considered a traitor to his own people, in that he was believed to have betrayed his own brother to his death.
The Troll's Grindstone begins with a Scipling in Skarpsey, Leifr Thorljotsson, who is fleeing from thief-takers, being rescued by a scavenger, Gotiskolker, who brings him unknowingly into the Alfar realm. Gotiskolker, who is actually Fridmarr in disguise, ravaged by the effects of an addictive poison called eitur, asks Leifr, first, to pretend to be Fridmarr and visit Fridmarr's father Fridmundr, who is dying of old age, and, second, to help recover the sword, Endalaus Daudi, from Sokvir. Leifr is aided in the quest for the sword by Thurid, a village school teacher and failed fire wizard guild apprentice, who has been staying with Fridmundr and has been secretly learning Rhbu magic ever since Fridmarr gave him a satchel full of Rhbu magical implements. Gotiskolker makes Leifr appear to be Fridmarr by giving him Fridmarr's carbuncle. After Fridmundr dies, Leifr and Thurid, with some help from Gotiskolker, steal back the sword of death and then travel between the points of the Pentacle, restoring them. On the side, a curious love story begins in which Leifr falls in love with Ljosa, Fridmarr's childhood love. Ljosa, for her part, shows great distaste for Leifr as Fridmarr, but at the end of the book sacrifices herself to save Leifr during a battle with Sorkvir. Leifr escapes into her fylgja form as a cat, but is unable to change back. Leifr's main motivation throughout the rest of the story is to save Ljosa. Although Sorkvir is killed in the final battle, his ashes are recovered by another ice wizard, Djofull, to whom Sorkvir was once an acolyte. Djofull, who has learned how to bring people back to life after death by repeated experiments on Sorkvir, plans to resurrect him once again. In addition to the battles over the Pentacle, part of this novel involves a search for the Heart of Skrymir, a Rhbu gem of great power. Gotiskolker dies in this adventure after revealing that he is Fridmarr. During the book, another major character emerges, Raudbjorn, a thief-taker working for Sorkvir who changes sides because of his growing admiration for Leifr. Leifr also saves three troll-hounds, Kraftig (Powerful), Frimodig (Fearless), and Farlig (Dangerous), who join the party as Leifr's faithful dogs. (The Troll's Grindstone, incidentally, is a device that a mysterious Rhbu troll uses to sharpen Endalaus Daudi just before it is needed to perform important tasks.)
In The Curse of Slagfid, the respite of Thurid and Leifr is brought to an end by the arrival of a group of fire wizards who demand that Thurid return to the guild to be examined by an inquisition. Informed that the Inquisitors believe that he is practicing a mixture of fire and Rhbu magic, Thurid flees alone only to be captured by Djofull. Leifr, who goes looking for Thurid, is also captured. To gain their freedom, Thurid and Leifr agree to be placed under a geas to eliminate the curse of Slagfid, an 800-year-old bane of a family living at a place called Fangelsi. Three new main characters appear: Svanlaug, a Dokkalfar woman, Gedvondur, the wizard who conspired with Fridmarr and Bodmarr in the events leading up to The Wizard's War, and Starkad, a young farmer, who is the ninety-ninth recipient of Slagfid's Bane. Gedvondur, who has lost his body, except for one hand, is capable of possessing others for short periods of time. Svanlaug, who is instrumental in capturing Thurid and Leifr, is actually seeking revenge on Djofull, whom she blames for the death of her father, formerly a member of the ice wizard's council. She joins forces with Thurid and Leifr, but occasionally changes sides, making her appear to be somewhat untrustworthy. Starkad plays a continuing role similar to that of Raudbjorn, though he is much more intelligent. As Thurid and Leifr try to solve the curse of Slagfid, they are inhibited both by Djofull and by the Inquisitors, who are waiting for them outside of Fangelsi. At the end of the book, Thurid acquires a new gem of power, Heldur's orb, but is captured by the Inquisitors and taken away to be examined by the Fire Wizards' Guild. At the same time, Djofull recaptures the ashes of Sorkvir, which he lost to Leifr earlier in the book. At this point, Leifr has to choose between trying to save Thurid from the punishments of the Inquisition or trying to prevent the resurrection of Sorkvir.
In The Dragon's Carbuncle, Leifr goes to after Djofull. By the time he arrives, Svanlaug and Gevondur are working with Djofull. After resurrection of Sorkvir, however, Svanlaug allies herself with Sorkvir, finally getting her revenge on Djofull. As Djofullhol collapses, Sorkvir gains power over Leifr, in part through a hair lock and in part through threats to destroy Ljosa's fylgja. Sorkvir wants to rescue Thurid in order to obtain Heldur's orb. At the Guildhall, Leifr, Raudbjorn, and Starkad (without Svanlaug and Gevondur) are befriended by Gradagur, Thurid's former teacher at the Guild, who has become crazed by visions of the future in which magic has been replaced by machines run with a mysterious ingredient of lightning called rafmagn, some of which run on tracks or fly through the air, and by Vonbridgdi, a Retriever of victims of failed magic experiments, who was once a Rhbu magician reduced to a lesser state by the Guild Inquisition. With the death of Djofull, the story is further complicated by the pursuit of Nagli and the Naglissons, a family of bounty hunters trying to capture Leifr, who is believed to have killed Djofull. After the escape from the Guildhall, Thurid, Leifr, and their various companions chase Sorkvir into the Dokkalfar realm. Although their objective is to rescue Ljosa, they eventually learn (from a Rhbu wizard providing occasional aid) that they are being lured by Sorkvir toward Hringurhol, where the Dokkalfar Council of Trettan is creating another Pentacle, which involves Heldur's orb and Leifr's sword, Endalaus Daudi. The Pentacle is being created to control Dokkur Lavardur, an elemental being that is also known as the Lord of Chaos. Using the power of this elemental, the Council plans to impose Fimbul Winter, thereby transforming the world into a place suitable for the Dokkalfar, but not for the Ljosalfar. Once the party of heroes enters the Dokkalfar realm, they encounter new troubles with a dangerous society of warriors, the Ulf-hedin, servants of the Council that are capable of turning into creatures that are half-elf and half wolf. (The book's title refers to a part of the story in which the a group of dragon hunter's are observed killing a dragon with a Scipling iron cannon. The object of dragon hunting is to obtain carbuncles full of magical knowledge.)
In the early pages of The Lord of Chaos, Thurid, Leifr, and their companions visit Svanlaug's family, the Bergmal clan, a clan of herbal healers. Interestingly, Dokkalfar are organized into gender - specific clans, rather than in male-female family units. After this visit, in which Svanlaug's relatives attempt to burn her at the stake as a traitor, the story reaches its climax in Hringurhol, where a complex web in intrigue develops between the main heroes, the Council, the Inquisitors, still in pursuit of Thurid, the Ulf-hedin, and the mysterious Rhbus, who at last reveal themselves openly. Svanlaug's sister, Ulfrin, emerges as still another major character, who is working with the Council against her own clan. She is supposed to become the bride of the Lord of Chaos. Perhaps the most interesting new characters are four sisters, the knacker women, strange undertakers who pick up and process the multitude of dead bodies that endlessly appear at Hringurhol in order to keep the city from being overrun with draugs--zombies that bang on doors at night, thereby making it difficult to sleep at night.
In my review of The Curse of Slagfid, December 1990, I discuss Boyer's writing style in some detail, pointing out that that not everyone who likes Tolkien's writings will enjoy hers. Nevertheless, as noted in each of her books, Tolkien was her original inspiration for writing these stories. As I reread all four books of The Wizard's War for this review, it occurred to me that her style is somewhere inbetween The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. Although her books have the sparse feel of The Silmarillion, they differ notably from it in that Boyer uses immense amounts of dialogue in which the characters argue endlessly page after page. Normally, lots of dialogue is regarded as a plus. These dialogues, however, often seem to overwhelm the descriptive passages and action scenes. Because of this extensive use of dialogue, the books come close to being plays rather than novels. It is probably because Boyer relies so heavily on pure dialogue that her characters frequently do not seem to be fully developed. Boyer seldom introduces her dialogue with a comment on the attitude of the speaker, relying instead on the words to speak for themselves. It may be that this heavy load of verbiage puts too much of an interpretive burden on most readers. Yet, it is possible that in the hands of professional actors the dialogue might come to life in a way that most dialogue in novels usually does not. Readers may also be bothered by the general tone. There is only one spot in The Lord of the Rings, where Tolkien produces a similar tone - the scene in which Strider, Gimli, and Legolas confront Gandalf, thinking he is Saruman, and try to kill him. The discordant temperament of all the characters in this scene, but especially Gandalf and Gimli, sets the characteristic tone of nearly all scenes in Boyer's stories. Anyone who likes The Silmarillion as literature should have no trouble reading and enjoying Boyer's writing. As I noted, in my earlier review, Tolkien himself would undoubtedly have found Boyer fascinating reading. Sadly, however, those who absolutely require the more conventional writing style and characterization of The Lord of the Rings will not.
ECH - The Curse of Slagfid - November 15, 2004