OR: Fallen

And following on from last Tuesday’s blog entry, here’s the second part of the Tim Lebbon feature that originally appeared in Black Static #7:-


The Everlasting is a fast paced and compelling read, one which shows Lebbon reaching even greater heights of imagination. And with Fallen (Allison & Busby hardcover, 328pp, £19.99), the latest novel set in his world of Noreela, the writer surpasses even this.

Two Voyagers, Nomi Hyden and Ramus Rheel, embark on what is to be the greatest voyage of discovery ever, to the great cliff of the Divide, which marks the end of known land, and beyond, where an ancient text has convinced them they may find a Sleeping God. They set off with an escort of Serian soldiers for hire, and initially the journey goes well, but then unsuspected tensions between the two come to a head. Suffering from a fatal illness, Ramus absconds with one of the Serians and the ancient texts, which he is slowly translating. Nomi and the others give chase, but Ramus has learned an ancient magic and can hold them at bay. Racing against each other, the two parties scale the Divide to discover its secrets, but Ramus has learned even more from the text and believes that the Sleeping God who awaits them is Fallen, and if so and they wake it then the consequences for all Noreela will be dire.

There are many things to commend this novel, not least of them the wealth of invention Lebbon brings to the narrative. He builds on the groundwork already laid down in Dusk and Dawn, though you don’t need to have read those to appreciate Fallen, further fleshing out his creation by dropping details of different countries, cultures, races, folklore etc into the text. The end result is a rich and varied creation, a world of wonders for the reader, and built with a rigorous consistency, each and every ramification of what the writer is telling us carefully thought out and slotted into his greater scheme.

The imagery is superlative, and the battle scenes exciting. In the latter regard Lebbon takes no prisoners, with characters we have come to know and care about over hundreds of pages picked up and thrown away like paper tissues, so that the reader can take nothing for granted. Highlights include the climb of the Divide, a huge and snow girt cliff, during which Nomi and her Serians are beset by monstrous creatures that lurk in caves in the cliffside; a pitched battle against shambling creatures that feed on the memories of others, leaving their victims drained; a surprise ambush by the Sentinels on the plateau atop the Divide, culminating in a desperate, edge of the seat fight for survival. And, if this is not horror as such, but fantasy, then it is fantasy to which Lebbon brings his own, unique brand of darkness, realised in scenes such as the one where the travellers discover a temple whose worshippers have been brutally slaughtered, their bodies mutilated; the image of a tree from which hang aborted foetuses; the metamorphosis of one of the characters into stone, delivered in slow, heartbreaking detail. While it may be fantasy, anyone who comes to Lebbon’s work expecting elves and orcs, venerable dragons and wise old wizards, is in for a severe shock to the system (the nearest character to a wizard he gives us is completely insane).

Lebbon is equally adept at characterisation. While some of the names are a bit similar (Ramus and Ramin, Nomi and Noon), he soon gives each combatant distinguishing features, so that we know Rhianni is an expert archer, has knowledge of medicine and culinary skills to die for, while Lulah is the taciturn one, the one with a dark past, and so on. Lebbon establishes who is who early on, showing a camaraderie developing among members of the party, and allowing the Serians to indulge in their custom of telling tales about themselves of an evening around the campfire. His skill at characterisation is best seen in Nomi and Ramus, an attraction of opposites. Nomi is young(ish) and until now her main aim as a Voyager has been the acquisition of wealth, at which she has been very successful. Older and more scholarly inclined, Ramus has a love of knowledge for its own sake, and looks down on Nomi’s commercialism. Both of them long for a great adventure and to achieve something that will go down in the history books, and for Ramus this is a last chance, as he is dying of a debilitating illness and hasn’t much time left. Despite the differences between them, the two are obsessed with each other, and there is the suggestion of some sexual tension, at least on Ramus’ part. The cataclysmic falling out between the two is a pivotal scene, and riveting to read as pent up emotions and dark secrets rise to the surface, and the subsequent bitter rivalry drives the book on.

Everything so far, good as it is, is just the foundation for a breathtaking grand finale, with echoes of the Gigeresque in the cavern where the Sleeping God (who may be Fallen) has resided for millennia and of the grandeur of Dunsany’s vision of Mana-Yood-Sushai in the closing scenes of destruction. Lebbon gives us a tense race against the Sentinels, twists and turns of fortune, earthquake and flood, and two very different fates for Ramus and Nomi. It’s the perfect resolution to the best book yet that I’ve seen from his pen.

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