When Destinies Collide by Gordon Atkins. Book review

When Destinies Collide by Gordon Atkins,  £8.50, Amazon

Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson

I often remind myself of my first and so far, last novel. It sits in its ring-binder on a shelf, the good parts along with the dreadful bits, safely unpublished, although it did wonders for my writing style. When Destinies Collide reminds me very much of this, my first ragged attempt at literature, so I commend it to all budding story-tellers with a formal written warning. Be clear in what you want to say, say it precisely and don’t get dragged off-course by new, attractive ideas. There is nothing sweeter than a good tight tale told with both enthusiasm and excitement. Above all else, remember that good editing is vital!

When Destinies Collide is effectively two stories supposedly linked together by good folk opposing a dark and evil power that pervades human, dwarf and ogre societies in a semi-feudal world.

The best part of the tale is the mission of a special regiment drawn from the 13th Light Dragoons of the Kingdom of Driniri, the Black Regiment of Kalas and the last remaining forty-five members of the Ogre Royal Guard, all under the command of Richard, King of Driniri and his brother or half-brother Markus, the Lord Protector of Kalas. This motley force takes a pilgrimage through the Unknown Lands with the objective of ambushing Raven Castle, the capital of Raimar, in the rear as its evil leader, Lord Gamil, launches his massed armies over the mountains towards Sartis, the capital of Driniri.

The recounting of this demanding journey through the forests of the Unknown Lands, the discovery of abandoned fortifications, the smell of dark magic, the entry into the ancient yet deserted city of Tregaron and the ghastly night visitor, an agent of further terrors to come, has an energy to it. Yet the plot is muddled. We learn that the history and traditions of Driniri are found to be wrong but no major attempt is made to restructure some truth from what is known. The adopted son of Markus, one Juvich, has interesting magical powers, but he drops out of the plot for some reason before he could become fully useful. Then the deserted town is not all that deserted as an evil has left its horrible mark. The ingredients of a good, ripping yarn are there but the execution is half-baked.

The clash between the huge armies of Driniri and Raimar has all the potential of a good story. This is attempted through discussions of strategy and the politics of high command. I commend the writing of Jerry Pournelle to Gordon Atkins as arguably the best recounting of battles within the fantasy genre. What is more semi-feudal societies would be incapable of putting huge armies in excess of two hundred thousand strong into the field as they lacked the massed populations and the supply chains to sustain them. The historian in me cavils at being expected to accept medieval armies clashing on a Napoleonic scale. Indeed, with a careful discipline this could be an exciting tale but it attempts too much so falls into the tedious and repetitive. There is an excellent counterpoint in this part of the tale which describes the experience of two conscripts, Jake and Tom, and what happens to them.

If you enjoy tales of rival kingdoms, dark magic and ancient myth then this is another one. If you revel in quantity rather than quality, then you will find this book more than adequate. From scanning the internet, I am left wondering whether this tale was calculated to attract attention to Gordon Atkin’s skill as a wordsmith. I would suggest to Gordon that he sticks to the day job, refining his story-telling skills on the quiet days. It is the harder road to travel, but he will find the artistic rewards will be far more sustaining as his talent would grow.