I can always say it was a weak moment when I decided to try The Wayfarer Redemption by Sara Douglass. Touted as a first novel by "Australia's most successful author", the blurb sounded interesting. However, the story itself was a mixed bag.
For over a millennia the Acharites have lived in peace, defended by the famed Axe-Wielders and a vast mountain range providing protection from the evil Lord of the North: Gorgreal. But a prophecy foretells trouble, and Gorgreal launches a surprise attack with an army of ice-demons, devastating the Acharite forces and throwing the land into chaos.
The Seneschal, the chief religious organisation of Achar, wields immense spiritual and political power, teaching obedience to Arto the Ploughman, the one god. They believe the forest is bad, harbouring demons and dark evil things who plot to overthrow mankind. For centuries the Seneschal has engineered the near total destruction of these forests - at the hands of the Axe-Wielders. Meanwhile, the Ice-Lord advances at the head of his ice-demons.
Enter Faraday, a woman who loves the noble Axis of the Axe, but is betrothed to the spiteful Duke Borneheld of Ichtar - his half-brother - and the most powerful noble in Achar. The Duke hates Axis with a passion. As the dust jacket puts it, 'this grand and heroic story tells the tale of one woman's plight to learn the truth of her people and change their hearts and their minds forever. She fights against oppressive forces to share this reality and will not desist until everyone knows… the truth of the Star Gate.' Just to be clear, the Star Gate has nothing to do with O'Neill, Carter, Teal'c or Jackson.
Parts of the novel work well. The world itself is detailed and engaging, if somewhat clichéd. For example, two of the exotic peoples encountered are The Icarii, a race of avian-like humans, and the Charonites. The Charonites live under the surface and get around by navigating boats through underwater passageways. Of course the names provide no clues.
The story has all the elements of romantic fantasy, a common theme prevalent with the genre these days. To keep the slow-paced plot moving, action bits are tossed at the reader to keep him/her mildly encouraged. The characters, though detailed, ultimately irritate and fail to compel. There wasn't one individual I wanted to invest any time with; thereby keeping my emotional involvement to arm's length.
And finally, I have to make a quick comment on the writing. The Wayfarer Redemption was one of those rare books where I actually edited mentally as I read. I'm not sure where to lay blame, but I felt there were entire passages that could have benefited from one more edit.
The Wayfarer Redemption is the first of a trilogy (aren't all fantasy books these days?), but I can't in all honesty recommend it. I may read the sequel, Enchanter, to give it another chance and look for improvement, but it won't be any time soon.