Terra Incognita: Book 1 – The Edge of the World
The Edge of the World is the first book in the Terra Incognita trilogy written by Kevin J. Anderson. Just to serve as a preamble, this is the first Kevin J. Anderson book I’ve ever read that wasn’t Star Wars. Mr. Anderson has done a lot of Star Wars works including Darksaber, the Jedi Academy trilogy, the Young Jedi Knights series, short stories, and reference books. I’ve read plenty of reviews and commentaries on them, and although I did enjoy those books back in the day, I’ve seen that he’s gotten some flack for those Bantam era stories. It was with that point of view that I read The Edge of the World and was completely surprised. This was not a Bantam era Star Wars tale. The depth of the characters, the emotions, and the richness of the story that unfolded was an experience that stood out from other books.
The novel starts off in a world that is very unfamiliar. The setting is fantasy, but with almost no magic and few fantastical creatures. Instead there is a world populated with two heavily religious cultures in a time that would be reminiscent of the early middle ages. A large cast of characters reveal the world to the reader and the amount of names, whether people or places, can be overwhelming at first. Yet the names are not given out like a history lesson, so the reader is free to breeze past the names and focus on the action. Settings range from sea travel to rugged mountains, cities and deserts, to snowy Norse lands and Mongolian plains. The varying locales also invite a variety of action. At first there are battles and small adventures, but as the story progresses it turns to all out war and ambitious explorations to far off lands. In fact much of the book focuses on exploration in both the literal and figurative aspects.
One of the most interesting adventures in the novel is the journey the characters make in themselves. Character development gets talked about a lot, but The Edge of the World is able to take that to a new degree because it covers roughly 15 years. Fifteen years is a long time and it allows a lot of events to happen to the characters. Of course to pull this off there are some time jumps in the novel. Regardless the time lapses give readers a glimpse of the characters’ lives that shows much more than the typical novel. The cast includes a preacher of questionable morality who takes upon himself a one man crusade against his sworn enemy. There is also Criston, a sailor, whose journeys on the sea pits him against sea monsters and the horrific aftermath of war. Criston’s wife Adrea plays a major part of her own with her tale showing a different view of the conflicts, and later providing some of the most emotional parts of the story. The rulers of the world are surprisingly wise which made for a refreshing change. However it also create a conflict where neither side is a villain and keeps the reader spiraling along as events plunge both sides into war. The journey ultimately takes you through each character’s trials and tribulations, their struggles to cope and to find happiness. All of it comes together to form a deeply intriguing drama that sucks you into their world. It makes for some great escapism.
There are some fantasy elements in the book though, and they help add some imaginative enjoyment. Primarily there are sea monsters, mostly serpents, and of course the legendary leviathan. But there is also a mythical snow dragon and an interesting run in with some unlikely beings on a strange island. The small dose of magic we do see is that of “sympathetic magic.” In the novel sympathetic magic is magic that relies on a common bound and appears to be fairly weak. It is used in compasses to help sailors find their way or in ship models so the fates of ships can be observed while they are out at sea. Beyond that, magic doesn’t appear very much elsewhere and certainly not in combat. While there may not be much fantasy, it works well in the book. There is just enough magic to add some spice to things while the main focus stays with the character journeys.
Overall The Edge of the World was a spectacular novel, and I do not say that lightly. It was a novel covering years of adventure and emotion. A tale that explores culture bound by religion and people trapped in the inevitable throes of life. Kevin J. Anderson takes a cast of characters and melds them into the soul of the reader. These people become real. Their pain, happiness, and hope become a shared experience with the reader. You cannot help but be swept away with their lives. Nations plunge into war, but the true heart of the story is the fates of the families it affects. Adventures and exploration become something much richer than anything I have ever experienced before in a novel. To the climatic ending, you will find yourself ready to plunge ahead, deeper into the story and the lives of its characters. Although at first there is a lot to take in, it eventually becomes a familiar place, and then an interesting tale. Later it becomes addictive and a treasure of an experience. Both profoundly moving and thoroughly engaging, this is KJA at his best.