The Infinite Kingdoms by Michael Rutherford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received this book directly from the author, to read and review if I liked it. Which I did. So here goes.
The Infinite Kingdoms is really three semi-short stories, not related by any characters but simply by the fact that they all take place in the same world. Perhaps they take place simultaneously, perhaps in different ages. It's impossible to tell, and truly, it doesn't much matter.
The first tale, The Tale and its Master, sets up the Kingdoms nicely, as it explains about the Guild that makes up much of the Kingdoms' culture. The Guild's full name is The Guild of Seers, Speakers, Dreamers, Storytellers, and Non-Fanatical Prophets. A baby, Remus, is born to a Storyteller, and grows up to discover that he has more talent in his pinkie than the entire Guild does in all of its members combined. At least, that's how he sees it.
Remus scorns all those around him, knowing he has powers they don't, and when it comes time to go off on his quest for his own story, he leaves thinking it will be easy. It isn't. He meets a witch on his quest who gives him her story in exchange for...well, you'll find out. He must thank her three times before each telling of the story in order to keep it under control. All of his dreams are about to be fulfilled, and he returns home triumphant. And cocky. What he doesn't realize is that his hubris could be his downfall.
The second tale, Wager of Dreams, Trundle is on the point of having to give up his dream-reading for a job as a scribe for the local lord. People just aren't dreaming anymore, and if they are, they are dreaming of objects, things, possessions. They aren't afraid of nightmares, and don't need their dreams interpreted anymore.
Trundle returns home to find his family subdued and a bunch of monsters in his house. They make him an offer he literally can't refuse - as long as he wants his family to live - and he is forced to accept. He must travel around the Infinite Kingdoms and spread the stuff of nightmares and dreams to all the people, so that demons of the night do not disappear completely.
He begins his journey by instilling fear of a plague, and the demons who are "house-sitting" until he gets home are pleased. As he travels around the Kingdoms, he continues to spread fear and nightmares. But each night he still instills hope within people, that the nightmare will end, that something good can happen.
As he nears the end of his journey, he comes to a kingdom that wants none of his dreams and nightmares and foolishness. They set out to murder him, but the demons have other plans in mind...
The final tale, Knights of Darkness, Knights of Light, tells the story of Ragnack, a mercenary who we meet as he is running away from knights who are after him for killing their prince. He was supposed to be fighting alongside this prince, but he had gotten lippy, and it was an accident! Ragnack meets with a demon-knight who has come out of the darkness to raise souls for his people to feed on. The demon-knight has been disguised as a human in order to deceive as many people as possible. As Ragnack saves this demon-knight, Apollyon, from falling off a cliff, he touches the skin of the demon and Apollyon is revealed in his true form. They share blood, and are linked forever as brothers. After sharing a night in a valley, they go their separate ways.
While Apollyon raises a bloodthirsty hoarde of barbarians, Ragnock searches for a place to lend his skills. He comes upon a kingdom in need of a protector, and agrees to work for King Melchior as his captain of the army. In truth, he runs the kingdom and gets the soldiers in fighting shape. Little does he know the battle that he will be forced to wage once Apollyon's forces are at their peak.
This collection is highly reminiscent of Jack Vance, one of the proclaimed kings of science fiction. Not in content, but in style, does Rutherford seem to pay homage to one of the literary greats of our time. Granted, I'm not a huge Jack Vance fan and still haven't finished reading his Tales of a Dying Earth series, but I will admit his writing style is certainly unique. Rutherford has a touch of that in his style - folklore and storytelling, reading as such but still having some air of modernity to it.
I enjoyed the "lessons" of each of the tales, and appreciated how they fit into the values of our world today. Going as far back as 1986, the tales in this collection are eerily familiar to today's reader. It's easy to connect to their themes and ideas, and take something away with you.
This book is hard to find online, as it was really only published independently by Owlswick Press in Philadelphia. But I do have contact information for the author, so if you do want to read it send me a message. I will pass it along to him for you.
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