When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner is the author’s debut novel. This is a big swords and sorcery epic that seems to channel a touch of Steven Erikson. The story is catapulted into action by the theft of a magical book that is filled to the brim with magic; the Book of Lost Souls. As the mage who stole the book begins to explore its power over the dead it begins to drawn the attention of gods and men into an epic convergence of power. The story follows several characters from different corners of the world as each is drawn ever towards the book’s power; each for a different reason. Luker, a magic wield swordsman called a Guardian, seeks to find his master who was also on the trail of the book; Romany, a priestess of the Spider is an agent of her Goddess’ machinations; Ebon, a Prince whose home lies close to the site of the convergence seeks to end the book’s effects on his people (mainly in the form of an army of undead); and Parolla a mysterious necromancer whose motivation I don’t want to spoil.
Turner manages to split the novel’s leads equally between genders and surrounds each character with a strong supporting cast. Turner’s female characters are all strong, competent women who stand on their own. Jenna, an assassin and acquaintance of Luker’s is easily pegged as the character’s love interest however Turner does a fantastic job at creating a rich history between the two characters such that their obvious attraction to one another doesn’t feel forced. Further, Luker’s attraction to Jenna is strongly predicated on her competence in her work. Parolla, struggles against hidden currents within herself both with regards to her power and due to the struggles she has faced in her past. Romany is the character who grated the most; at least a first. Vain, and self-centered Romany just rubbed me the wrong way. Romany acts as an agent of the Spider carefully manipulating the various players who converge upon the Book of Lost Souls. However, Turner has a keen hand when it comes to character development and Romany’s growth as the novel progresses is fascinating watch. Ebon and Luker actually felt the most traditional. Luker’s motivation, primarily out of loyalty to the man who trained, cast him as honest and driven. He chooses personal loyalty out any sense of obligation to a government or organization. He is a likeable character who in early chapters feels a bit adrift but who feels like a more complete individual once he has a concrete goal ahead of him. Ebon is that character who could have easily been the most boring of the bunch. However, Turner does an admirable job making Ebon a character who is drawn in a variety of different directions by his sense of loyalty, honor, and responsibility. At one time haunted by the spirits of the dead Ebon is partly motivated by a sense of redemption as he not only seeks to prove himself free of the spirits” influence but also make up for the terrible loss of life that resulted from his rash actions. He is further saddled by his love for a woman below his station. This plot point is one that gets loss in the shuffle and Ebon’s quest in the latter part of the novel doesn’t really draw on this in any meaningful way. Furthermore, as the novel comes to a conclusion and various plot threads are wrapped up Turner never returns to Ebon’s lady love. Ebon’s chapters do introduce my favorite secondary character in the air mage Mottle. The “crazy” wizard character isn’t anything new but Mottle, despite the cliché, manages to walk that fine line between hyper-competence and wackiness with aplomb.
Turner has a rich and interesting world in When the Heavens Fall but provides very little by way of exposition as readers journey through it. He establishes a keen sense of history both recent and ancient over the course of the novel and uses both primarily as a means to drive the action forward. Turner lays out the current status of the Guardians as a once independent organization now under the thumb of an Emperor and now a shadow of their former selves. It is this fact that serves as a driving force of tension in Luker. However, at the same time I never felt particularly confident I knew what the Guardians were precisely. Over the course of the novel readers are introduced to a handful of gods. Shroud, lord of the dead plays a significant role in the novel as does the Spider but both deific figures remain largely inscrutable. It is in this world building that Turner’s Steven Erikson really comes to the fore. Shroud, in name and power, called to mind Erikson’s lord of the dead, Hood. The Spider, while less capricious, reminded me of Erikson’s Shadowthrone. Similarly the complex history of Turner’s world particularly the mysterious ancient empires, and beings with ancient enmity called to mind elements of the Malazan Book of the Fallen I was particularly reminded of the rivalry between the T’lan Imass and Jaghut.
When the Heavens Fall is an excellent start to a new series. While the novel wears its inspirations quite visibly on its shoulder it is never enough to take away from Turner’s strong characterization and masterful juggling of plot and action. Turner has a tendency to stick with show over tell and When the Heavens Fall is one of those novels where I actually wish there was a touch more tell. I am hoping that in further novels Turner works towards further originality and find a voice that is more clearly his own. Regardless, fans of swords and sorcery and epic fantasy will definitely find a lot to life here.
Review copy provided by Tor Books