Sythyry (sythyry) wrote,

OOC: A Path to the Coldness of Heart (long-awaited conclusion review)

Over half my lifetime ago, a newish author named Glen Cook published the impressive Dread Empire trilogy, which was (and still is) about my favorite gritty military fantasy. Lots of interesting and sometimes sympathetic characters on all sides. War seen as a sometimes-obligatory but devastating evil rather than anything glorious, including the deaths of several of those interesting and sympathetic characters. Intense terse writing — I think the whole trilogy would fit inside one of George RR Martin's massive books, for all that Cook gets through way more plot and more characterization than Martin. Highly recommended.
But it was subtitled "The Dread Empire Series". A few more books showed up: a couple prequels, and a couple sequels in which some important parts of the peace constructed at the end of the core trilogy, and some main characters, fell apart. Lots of mysteries were glimpsed. Glen Cook was clearly building up to an impressive climax…
But it never happened. Glen Cook wrote many other things, some in the Dread Empire style and some other. It eventually came out that he had nearly finished the sequel to the last published book when some evil fan stole the only extant copy of the manuscript — Cook wrote on a typewriter at that point — and all of Cook's Dread Empire notes.
Well, last year or so, Cook did write and publish 'Path to a Coldness of Heart', the last of the Dread Empire books.
… I almost sorta kinda wish he hadn't bothered.
OK, it's not *horrible* by any means. Glen Cook is a first-rate writer in this genre, and his worst novel (which this isn't) is better, in my opinion, than the best of most other military fantasy writers.
But 'Coldness' doesn't come anywhere close to living up to the promise of the rest of the series. Glen Cook is going through the motions, but he doesn't seem interested. He's careless and distracted.
Case in point: The Dread Empire series has a cast of thousands … dozens of characters who get viewpoint for a page or two, enough to clearly be people in their own right. Admittedly, lots of them are dead by this point, but plenty are alive, and it would be good to tie up their stories. But instead we get a pile of *new* characters. Some of them belong: several main characters had children who are now old enough for speaking parts, or (if this were the rest of the series) becoming hostages to fate. But the rest ... why on alternate-Earthy-place do that annoying Colonel and that annoying pedophile-lite sorcerer-lite and his nearly-of-age consort get prime billing in 'Coldness'? Not only don't they deserve it on the grounds of being new characters, their inclusion in the main action at the end of the book seems wholly superfluous.
Case in point: the last book ignores some events from the main trilogy. In book 3, four characters (offstage) penetrate the mysterious Place of Iron Statues and do some impressive things there. Three of those characters are alive and deeply involved at the climax of 'Coldness'. In which another expedition to the same Place is performed, this time on-screen, and we actually get to see it (yay!). But the first expedition seems to have been forgotten. OK, there's sort of an in-book reason why the people who were there could have been compelled to forget (though one of them is one of the strongest three sorcerers in the world so /maybe/ she'd've protected herself, and another has a super-good memory and is compulsive about information, so why didn't he remember or at least write stuff down?). But /nobody/ seems to remember that they were there.
Also, the main trilogy had as a crucial fact that Varthlokkur and Nepanthe's relationship was a crucial thing for the universe. It'd be nice to have that come
Case in point: The series starts with Nepanthe's family stealing the Windmjirnerhorn from the Star Rider. They never quite figured out how to use it very well, and after their [self-]destruction (due in some part to having the Horn) the Star Rider gets it back. But several of them were (a) good sorcerers trying to study the thing, and (b) later deeply involved with the top-rated sorcerers who dominate 'Coldness', so how come Mist and Varthlokkur seem so unaware of how it works?
Case in point: The Star Rider, up to this point, is a mysterious and secretive meddler in the affairs of the world. He has always operated in strange indirect ways — setting up massive wars by a bit of indirect prodding, like that time he 'lost' the Windmjirnerhorn to Nepanthe's family. This, IMAO, makes him a fantastic antagonist. Until the second half of 'Coldness', in which he suddenly goes ultra-terrifying world-class-sorcerer who, despite being seriously weakened, terrifies *all the rest of the sorcerers in the world put together*. He goes from a delicious mystery to a guy with a huge club. His final set of moves don't even make sense to *him* — he knows that attacking the castle is a poor choice, and he'd be better off hiding for a century and sneakily intriguing to split the anti-Star-Rider alliance apart, like he's an expert at doing. Attacks anyways.
Case in point: Some really interesting characters are hinted at — Radeachar acquires a bit of a personality and its first friend; the Star Rider's winged horse gets a personality too — and /nothing comes of it/. The characters are introduced but barely developed. Mist's children get a bit more stage time, but still not enough. They're all set to be major players in the next book of the series, which, of course, will not exist.
Case in point: Bragi essentially is in psychotherapy for most of the book. Knows it, too. Glen Cook's skills do not extend to writing brilliant psychotherapy. Not even *sensible* psychotherapy. Mist tells Bragi to think about stuff, and he does, and that's about it.
Case in point: In the last few books it has been established that Mist and Varthlokkur are the greatest wizards in the world. Mist rules the Dread Empire by this point. So it seems more than a little goofy that they *both* take time out — significant time out — to investigate a couple of child abuse cases in Kavelin. Between that and the sympathetic pedophile-or-so wizard, pedophilia turns into a main theme of the book, as if Cook wants to say something about it, but it's not even clear *what*.
Finally — WTF is up with that title? This book is massively *warm-hearted* by Glen Cook standards. Yeah, it's the last sentence of the previous book. Yeah, the title of the vanished book ("Wrath of Kings") would make less sense. But still, I have no clue whose heart is supposed to have gotten colded.
Anyways, it's not /awful/, but it's more of a gravestone than a capstone for the Dread Empire series. I'd rather have an unfinished masterpiece than a finished inferior work. So I'm gonna go reread the original trilogy and forget that the other books ever existed.
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