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A couple of aspects have summed up Russell Kirkpatrick's ''Broken Man'' trilogy for me so far. There has been a fascinating story with some wonderful character building that has made it highly enjoyable. There have also been some of the most detailed maps I have ever seen in a fantasy series, offering more variation than I've seen in maps before and actually adding detail to some parts of the story, not merely acting as a guide. I was expecting more of the same from the final part, ''Beyond the Wall of Time'' and very much looking forward to it.
Husk is still trapped in his tower, drawing towards him those people he needs to gain revenge on his captor, the Undying Man. Unfortunately for him, the three people he is controlling have become aware not only of his presence, but also their shared experience and are working to banish Husk from their minds. As the gods exert greater influence over the group in their battle for control of the world, so Husk's grip on his spikes weakens further.
Lenares is still trying to lead the group, but is worried that as she becomes a more rounded person, she is becoming less of a cosmographer and losing her ability to read the numbers in the world. Her concerns over the health of Torve, her beloved, are also distracting her. Noetos, meanwhile, is driven only by his own thirst for revenge against the Undying Man, little realising that the object of his wrath travels alongside him. As they near their destination, the forces acting on the group manifest themselves in many ways.
In terms of the story itself, ''Beyond the Wall of Time'' is the weakest of the trilogy, but that's akin to choosing the least sweet spoonful of sugar. It does feel like Kirkpatrick maybe brought the characters a little too far with the earlier books, which were sizable tomes, not leaving himself enough of their journey to fill the final part. There is still a lot happening here, but the group seem to be lurching from one set piece to another, without really making progress. This is no bad thing, but after the earlier parts, it feels less convincing.
One thing that remains the same is Kirkpatrick's inventiveness. He always manages to find ways of keeping his characters and his readers off balance. Unfortunately for the characters, he usually achieves this by springing nasty surprises on them. This time, Kirkpatrick doesn't just stop at physically tormenting his characters, as both Husk and Lenares have psychological issues to deal with and the group have to contend with the loss of some of their number. But thanks to Kirkpatrick's fertile imagination and the magic that abounds in this world, sometimes even death doesn't prove to be the end.
The reason this matters so much to me hasn't changed, either. Kirkpatrick has built some wonderful characters into this trilogy that I've come to know well. They're not always likable and they don't always act with the purest of motives, but the major characters are wonderfully drawn and each one is distinctive. From the beginning of the trilogy, it has been easy to separate one from the other, so well are they all written and it's tough not to pick favourites and to feel a little something for them when they are in danger. Indeed, such is the quality of Kirkpatrick's writing, it's often difficult not to feel things alongside them, as well as for them.
Although the world has always been well drawn, in ''Beyond the Wall of Time'', it appears especially so. It could be that Kirkpatrick has made the scenery a larger part of the book here as there wasn't quite enough story to go around, but for whatever reason, you get to see the huge contrasts in the land here. One moment the group is in the forest canopy of Patina Padouk, not long after they are deep underground in the hidden mining community of the Zizhua Valley. You can almost feel the trees swaying in the breeze before worrying that the mountains above are going to fall down and bury you alive once you follow the story into Zizhua. The writing is as powerful as ever, even if some other aspects of the book fall a little short.
I may have called this book weak, but this is only in comparison to the previous volumes of the trilogy. It's a slightly disappointing end, given the high quality of what has gone before, but viewed in isolation this is still an impressive piece of writing. The quality of the characters and the descriptive writing has this book head and shoulders above more or less anything but Kirkpatrick's own high standards. At a cheapest price of £2.87 from the Amazon Marketplace, this makes it well worth a purchase if you've read and enjoyed the previous books in the trilogy and if you haven't, I suggest any fantasy fan goes and does so, as it's a wonderfully written and crafted story all the way through.