The Lost Empires Series - Book 2
|Cover Artist:||Fred Fields|
|Release Date:||November 1998|
|Format:||Paperback book (312 pages)|
|The text below is taken from a
description by TSR on the reverse of the actual product:
Erlkazar. Hidden from his powerful family's enemies behind a hideous mask of his own
face. Sent bu the goddess of beauty of an impossible mission. Driven to find a
way past his own flesh, into a soul torn between destiny and love.
Other titles in The Lost Empires Series:
|This is by far the worst Forgotten Realms book I have ever read! It had a good start introducing the main character and his demise of being mutated into an ugly child to save him from possible death during the Uprise in Tethyr.He worships Sune, the Godess of Beauty with the hope of becoming handsome. He goes to a far off land in search of some magical place which supposedly doesn't exist.He gets all this crap about "Beauty is inside of you". He finds this exotic chick who sees his "inner beauty". One misadventure to another leaves you hanging thinking "That's it?". There was no action, no killing, no humor, no sense of seduction or any real good plot or major discovery at the end.I'm sure Troy Denning is a very respected writer but this book seriously made me shy away from new books written by him such as the Summoning...well in fairness I haven't read his other works so perhaps I just got a bad sample.|
The first point to make about 'Faces of Deception' is that it's an intense read. There are no sub-plots or side-quests. There is just the journey. Consequently, the book's page-turner quotient is ridiculously high. Denning is a good enough storyteller to keep you hooked once he's got you and I must admit I read this book into the wee small hours on a couple of occasions. That said, the novel is not perfect. Far from it, but more of that later...
The protagonist of this tale is Atreus Eleint. Atreus is an unusual character. Son of a massacred wealthy noble Tethyr family and heir to their immense riches, Atreus is physically deformed and twisted. In magically disguising him as an ogre baby in order to protect him from the rampaging peasants who murdered his parents, the family sorceror in effect unknowingly cursed him, for, as Atreus grew up, the spell deformed his physical features, meaning that his wealth is counter-balanced by a grotesque physical appearance. Atreus is a worshipper of Sune and, perhaps understandably, seeks to trade his ugliness for a more attractive appearance. The opening chapter details Atreus' vision of Sune and her giving of the quest that forms the focus of the rest of the book. And it's here that the reader encounters the first problem.
At the end of the first chapter, it's clear that a deception has been worked on Atreus, that his quest has been contrived by the clergy of the Goddess of Beauty to get rid of their unwelcome, albeit generous, supplicant. The first 'face of deception' is Sune's. Or is it? Despite the hints given at the end of the first chapter (the conversation between the heartwarders, the "small and a little heartless" smile of Julienne), Langdarma, the paradise Atreus is sent to find, is real and the quest is genuine, although its outcome is far from what Atreus was expecting. This ambiguity is never satisfactorily resolved, but the whole issue of the legitimacy of the quest is caught up with the wider issue of what exactly the quest is and what it's meant to achieve for Atreus.
Now I'd imagine we've all been round the block a couple of times as fantasy readers. We understand quest narratives almost instinctively and are probably familiar with the ways they can be subverted and exploited. Add to the mix notions of beauty (particularly the contrast between 'inner' and 'outer') and you've got a story that is obviously *not* going to end the way the main character expects it to. Certainly, the first two-thirds of the novel conform to the traditional pattern. Atreus, his ogre bodyguard Yago and their Mar guide Rishi have an arduous physical journey to make and Atreus' decision to rescue locals from an extraplanar slavemaster demonstrates his noble/heroic character and appears to lead him further away from his goal, while actually unexpectedly leading him closer to it. So far so good. The relentless pursuit of Atreus and his party by Tarch, the aforementioned slavemaster, is portrayed particularly well and, despite the vast landscapes being described by the author, the sense of claustrophobia engendered by the slow chase is particularly powerful.
It's when the party finally reaches the paradise of Langdarma that things go... well, strange. On the one hand, Langdarma is exactly the kind of agrarian pocket paradise the narrative has so far led us to believe. Its people live simple, yet content, lives, and they are watched over by an angelic 'sannyasi', who jealously guards the secret of Langdarma's existence. The 'regime' of Langdarma is pacifist and non-interventionist, yet ultimately selfish, unwilling to share its secrets with the outside world. Denning's description raises the question of whether, morally, it is a paradise at all. Its people are as ignorant and superstitious as those Atreus meets (or, more accurately, tries to avoid meeting) on his journey through Edenvale and the Yehimal Mountains.
By the time the party reaches Langdarma (or, at least, within a few hours of them reaching it), Atreus has found love and beauty in the arms of Seema, the healer from Langdarma who has taken him back to her homeland. Were it not for the fact that there were still 60 odd pages to go, I'd have expected the novel to end then. Atreus could have realised that true beauty *is* of the heart, that he is accepted for who he is by a beautiful woman etc. That Denning doesn't end the novel this way is probably a good thing, as it avoids one of the biggest cliches in both fantasy and romance literature. Atreus is determined that his physical appearance should become more attractive and the desire to fulfil Sune's quest becomes even more intense. This selfishness leads to Atreus' betrayal of his lover and the near destruction of the paradise he came so far to find. In the novels' final pages, however, Atreus saves the land he had so nearly destroyed by sacrificing the very object he had come to find and leaving Langdarma in a shocking and dramatic manner. This ending is so anti-climactic, however, that the only reasonable reaction a reader can have to it is disappointment. It leaves so many unanswered questions: Was that really Sune Firehair giving Atreus the quest? What was Atreus expected to learn during the quest? What is Atreus going to do when he gets back to Erlkazar?
Denning doesn't give us any answers to these questions and perhaps that's the point. The book is called 'Faces of Deception' and, although it's tempting to rank the author's as the biggest 'face' of all, there *are* points being made about how deceptive the desire for beauty can be and how dangerous it is to equate beauty with truth. Atreus' final act is altruistic and, in its own way, as morally beautiful as anything encountered in Langdarma. 'Faces of Deception', then, is a wild ride of a novel. Just when you think you've got it worked out, it surprises you. Its prose is invariably exciting and engrossing and the small cast of characters is memorable and often unusual (Yago's is certainly the most sympathetic characterisation of an ogre I've read since 'Shrek'). This is not an easy novel to *get*, though (and I'm by no means certain that I have), and I'm sure some readers will be frustrated by it. The ending *is* disappointing, but, then, it's difficult to see how else the author could have finished a novel that examines the fantasy genre's most cherished cliches about beauty and truth and ultimately rejects them all.
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