The Map of All Things by Kevin J. Anderson – Book Review [Shadowhawk]


Shadowhawk reviews the second Terra Incognita novel by Kevin J. Anderson, continuing a tale of dogmatic religious crusades, tragedies, adventures on the high seas and doomed romances.

“A novel that continues and builds upon its predecessor, this is a must-read for fans of the series for the simple fact that Anderson stays fully true to the world he has created.” ~The Founding Fields

I took a break in between reading The Edge of The World and The Map of All Things so I wouldn’t overload on the experience. Like I mentioned in my review of the former just a couple days back, it is a good novel all around but it leaves a few things to be desired and it is told in a style that I found myself quite at odds with it. So it all prepared me for the second novel of the series in that I knew what to expect from it and so wouldn’t be as disappointed in the style regard as I was with its predecessor. Kevin J. Anderson had set a certain benchmark and being as familiar with his work as I am, albeit somewhat limited I’m sure, I knew that things could only get better, simply speaking. The major question was whether it would be an average to good growth or average to excellent one.

It was the first of those cases as it turns out. The Map of All Things had a lot of plot threads to account for, given the ending of The Edge of The World, and once again, I was surprised by how well Mr. Anderson kept things together with a tight narrative that never ignores its characters, irrespective of what their status in that narrative is.

Being familiar with the narrative style – really small chapters with lots of character hopping and unexpected tragedies in particular – made for an easier read this time. I was used to it and it didn’t bother me so much now, although I still wish it had been written in the more traditional manner. That would have made the reading experience that much more complete and enjoyable.

The story here picks up relatively soon after the climax of the previous novel as the war between the Urecari and the Aidenists continues with atrocities piling up on both sides and both refusing to take moral blame for their actions – They did so and so and that gives us the right to do so and so to them because they are heathens!. That would be quite an apt description for a good many of the atrocities and tragedies that are committed in the Terra Incognita novels. But things are heating up nonetheless and both sides launch ambitious plans to defend themselves and seek help from outside their borders at the same time. That definitely is the most important plot in the novel as far as I am concerned. Everything revolves around getting help from the gods Urec or Aiden and their father Ondun and their brother Joron, no matter what it takes.

Religion in these novels is interesting. It has very stark similarities to our own history and our world in its present state. The Terra Incognita novels are very much religious commentaries in that regard because it is blind fanaticism that drives the characters throughout. We have to have our revenge against those murderers! All I can say is that it made for a more enjoyable read.

The characters continue to develop as many of them begin to settle in their new roles and while others persist in their old ones. They also continue to develop. Sometimes the changes are abrupt and quite at odds with how the characters have been portrayed previously but the fact is that Mr. Anderson handles it all well. A little thought is required to see how the author got the characters from A to B which, if you think about it, is a good approach to take with the readers. If you are not forced to dig deeper into character motivations and if the novel doesn’t make you think about what you have read, then the author hasn’t really delivered on the goods.

The world-building from The Edge of The World is continued fantastically. We really get to see a wider picture of events as we travel beyond the boundaries of both Uraba and Tierra, whether it is the sand coracles of the former that they use to explore lands beyond the Great Desert or the new explorer ship that the Tierrans have built to search for the fabled land of Terravitae, where the gods are said to reside. Exploring new lands, being part of the characters’ adventures right beside them and getting to see their actions and reactions was quite fun. I enjoyed it and I believe that this still remains one of the strongest strengths of the author. The magic is built upon and there is no letup on that front.

The Map of All Things also features a bit more magic than its predecessor which was very magic-lite. And this is just another example of how the world continues to grow and become more mature. The idea of sympathetic magic – such as the link between a vessel and its model counterpart that is built of materials used in the construction of the former, or the lock of hair that a lover has from his lover and which he uses to send her his messages-in-bottles and so on – is for me very unique. A refreshing take on magic that is never hammered at the reader and nor is it applied too gently. There is a good balance here between the two.

The dialogue… well I wish we did get to see much more dialogue. The novel, like its predecessor, is still very dialogue-lite, a symptom of the small chapters style and all the information that needs to be conveyed to the reader. There simply isn’t enough dialogue and it sometimes drags down the experience. More dialogue is always good. I like dialogue. Dialogue, in balanced moderation is GOOD. This is definitely one of the things that drags down the novel for me. A case of the old saying “show don’t tell” I’d say.

Another thing that got me down was the naivete of the characters, or their general pigheadedness at times. Combined with their blind faith in their respective religious, this often made for some awkward reading. The only ones who I can say really impressed with their absolute consistency and adaptive nature were the Saedran characters, Sen Leo, Sen Aldo and Sen Sherufa in particular. Saedrans were definitely my favourite culture and people in the novels and their chapters were devoured rather than read sedately. If that makes sense? That’s not to say that the others characters are pretty much all inconsistent. Its just that many of them flip flop between reason and retribution/vengeance too much at times to make me feel at ease.

But, like I said earlier, I was already expecting this to continue so the experience wasn’t as bad as before. I knew the score, so to speak.

Overall, in its tone and style, The Map of All Things fits in well with The Edge of The World in making this seem like some epic fantasy saga like The Lord of The Rings and being a fan of the latter, I can definitely appreciate how Mr. Anderson went about things. Everything is connected to each other, there are reasons for most things, and later for things that seem unreasonable at first. The narrative itself certainly doesn’t leave the reader with an unfulfilled experience.

And that’s where the pacing comes in. Not to rehash things here so I’ll say that there is a gradual buildup of intensity throughout the novels. Before, the two nations of Uraba and Tierra were fighting the war themselves. But now they have allies, new strategies, and the world has expanded metaphorically speaking. There are undercurrents of there being a big clash fairly soon and many things are coming together for an explosive climax, or are being “telegraphed” that they will, such as the voyages of the Dyscovera and the Al-Orizin. The buildup tells me that the scope of things in the next novel is going to be pretty big, which is exactly what my expectations would have been regardless.

So going by all that and the things I mentioned in the review for The Edge of The World, would I recommend the novel? I sure would. As a complete package, it is a better novel in most aspects and in cases where it isn’t, it is at the same level at least. I certainly wasn’t disappointed at all by the time I was done and that’s a very good thing.

So yeah, very high expectations for the third novel, The Key to Creation. And having finished that one just a few short hours earlier, I have to say that the expectations were pretty much all met.

Rating: 8/10

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.