Book Review: To Ride Hell’s Chasm by Janny Wurts
The small, isolated Kingdom of Sessalie is about to celebrate a wedding. Princess Anja is about to marry the High Prince of Devall, which is not only politically advantageous, but a love match. But on the eve of the wedding, Anja goes missing.
It falls to the leader of the Highguard, silver-haired Taskin, and the captain of the lower city garrison, the “desert-bred” Mykkael, to find the princess, and discover the motives of those that would prevent the marriage.
This is a standalone novel by Janny Wurts, author of the massive The Wars of Light and Shadow. She is also the cover artist, which at least means that the cover is appropriate to the story.
Mykkael, as it turns out, is vastly overqualified for his position under normal circumstances, despite a bum knee and deep manpain from what he considers his greatest failure. In this crisis situation, however, he may be just slightly underqualified. It’s kind of a given that if a place with an ominous name is mentioned, that no one has survived a trip through, that our hero will have to go there. And given that place name is in the title?
Mykkael faces considerable ethnic prejudice due to his appearance, even though he was not raised in that culture, and the enemies of Sessalie take full advantage of this to discredit his warnings, even spreading misinformation that the defenses against evil magic he recommends will strengthen the demons. There’s also the persistent mispronunciation of his name by nobility, and it becomes a point of characterization who drops the mispronunciation and when.
The main female character, Anja, comes off well, despite the plot not exactly working in her favor. A trek through insanely dangerous wilderness while pursued by monsters is not what she was trained for. If she has a difficult personality at times, it comes across as an understandable reaction.
One thing that struck me as I was reading through was that a major character didn’t seem to have a name. Eventually, I realized that no one in that character’s category was ever actually named, which may have been meant as foreshadowing.
There’s quite a lot of business involving horses, as several (non-magical) horses become important characters later in the book and much attention is given to their care and injuries. The ride through Hell’s Chasm, once if finally happens, is grueling and exhausted this reader.
The story is wrapped up perhaps a little too neatly in the final chapter. It feels like the author really wanted to make sure the book had a seriously final ending so it wouldn’t turn into a trilogy or series.
There are several maps at the beginning, a glossary, an appendix explaining how demons work in the setting, and a brief biography of the author.
Trigger warning: Taskin is forced by politics to lash Mykkael at one point, making sure to draw blood. In general, a lot of time is taken describing Mykkael and other people’s wounds.
This is a good starting place if you have been curious about Ms. Wurts’ work, but reluctant to start a long series.