THE WHITE TOWER: BOOK ONE OF THE ALDORAN CHRONICLES by Michael Wisehart
Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
This is a substantial volume but it has been well organised to prevent the reader getting lost in the detail of the plot. The story begins with Nyalis, the last of the Aerodyne school of wizards being hunted down by agents of the White Tower for the grievous crime of protecting a fragile, new-born faeling infant from the corruption of absolute power. The reader won’t know it at the time, but this incident determines the entire volume and possibly the complete sequence of the Aldoran Chronicles.
Wisehart has a very gentle writing style that is easy to follow, coupled to a plotting technique which tends to curl sideways rather than follow any direct sequence. It makes for a comfortable reading experience.
The plot is played out in three principle environments. There is Easthaven in Sidara which is conveniently apart from the great powers of the time. It is a pastiche of small town, picket-fence America where community, neighbourliness and cooperation exist to permit a gentle individualism. Then there is Aramoor, the capital of Elandria, a late medieval kingdom where King Rhydan, a superb man-manager who values competence above privilege, rules much to the frustration of his drunkard heir. Finally, there is the sinister institution of the White Tower, originally conceived to be the agency for controlling oppressive magicians but which has become itself a monstrous vessel for perverted magic. Its agents, called the Black Watch, patrol every community to hunt out and torture those individuals with any talent who might be conceived as having magical powers. This is a restatement of that ancient question: who is it who polices the police?
The context of this first volume is about the gathering storm in which the ancient post-Wizard War society, supposedly protected by the White Tower finally rots to pieces from within as the very institution designed to protect its peace diabolically conspires to declare war upon its own responsibilities. The parallels with modern anxieties are evident and it will be interesting to see how these tensions play out across the series.
There is a multitude of characters in this volume but it subtly becomes evident as to which of these are the principles through whom the story will be played out. First, there is Ty, the faeling child of the opening sequence who is now a teenager starting to find out who and what he is. Second, there is Ayrion, the valiant, loyal captain of King Rhydan’s guard with an urchin past, dedicated to supporting his king. Third, there is Ferrin, the swordsmith whose black humour frustrates the torturers of the White Tower. Lastly, there is Valtor, the Arch-Chancellor of the White Tower, a dedicated dark wizard, an experimenter upon children, a torturer of souls and the sort of person who votes for the opponent of the candidate the reader supports. He is the personification of evil, controlled by a dead wizard seeking resurrection.
The tale is about a society divided between those with no magic, those who possess or wield magic, those who are trying to make such a society work and those who would happily destroy it to enlarge their power. In this volume the reader experiences the beginning of the end as violence turns the world upside down, to open the way to the twilight times which will persist until another dawn arrives.
This is good fantasy in the swords and sorcery tradition. The writer deliberately sets out to bring the reader on board with every intention of retaining their loyalty.