The Company of Glass - Everien: Book One by Valery Leith (Victor Gollancz, £9.99, 397 pages, trade paperback, published 26 August 1999; mass market paperback published by Millennium, £6.99, 397 pages, published 18 May 2000.)
The Company of Glass is Book One in the Everien story, however long that might turn out to be. In a world positively groaning under the combined weight of fantasy series, the addition of yet another entrant could perhaps be a signal for mass sighs of regret for slaughtered trees. Fortunately, Leith has managed to turn in a book that is eminently readable, with good characters and a plotline that is sufficiently different enough to be interesting. Maybe the trees did not die in vain.
The Company of Glass has a number of things going for it that lift the book out of the rut that fantasy has, in general, fallen into. The chief of those is that Leith seems to be drawing less from the American Brooks/Eddings/Jordan school of fantasy and more from a British Moorcockian mode, where the surreal holds more sway.
The book revolves around three groups. The first is essentially the Company of Glass itself, twelve great warriors sent along the White Road to the mysterious Floating Islands, and its daunting city of Jai Pendu. The company's aim is to obtain knowledge and artifacts to help in the war against the Sekk, a race able to ensorcel and control the people of Everien. At the start of the plot proper, there is only one surviving member of the Company, Tarquin the Free, who is drawn back into Everien by the imminent return of the White Road and Jai Pendu.
The second group are a rag-tag new company put together by a daughter of one of the first company. This group fails to get the support of the ruler of Everien, but decide to make the attempt to reach Jai Pendu anyway.
The third group revolves around the rulers of Everien, who have to deal with a mysterious incursion into Everien by an army of their neighbours, the Pharicians, and the simultaneous disappearance of their own armies. On top of that, the Everien capital, Jai Khalar is misbehaving. A relic of an earlier civilisation, Jai Khalar is a hidden city, with many strange properties, getting stranger by the day with the approach of Jai Pendu and the White Road.
Leith skilfully mixes up the storylines of these three groups so they criss-cross and intermingle, culminating in all three coming together on the Floating Islands in a miasmic climax. The story seems pretty complete (apart from the small matter of an invading force sitting outside Jai Khalar left unresolved) with plenty of possibilities for interesting expansion. Leith's characters are certainly worth following into further volumes.
That just leaves one minor mystery: who is Valery Leith? According to the blurb, "Valery Leith is the pseudonym of a critically acclaimed young science fiction writer". So come on, own up, who is moonlighting in the fields of fantasy?
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© John D Owen 6 November 1999