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Paradise Lost - the title of John Milton's unforgettable classic. Yet this title could not less describe this wonderful, wonderful tale by a very underrated and established author. I am a Salvatore fan, and this may be reflected in my tone and language, but this was the book that introduced me to the genre as well as the writer, and as a versed reader of this author's works, I will actually oppose most of his fans by labelling this as my all time favourite book. This was one of Rob Salvatore's first strikes onto the fantasy genre, following 'The Crystal Shard' and delving into the Forgotten Realms from the late 80s. Yet this was a break away - the 'Ynis Aielle' trilogy. This changed my perspective of life - and although one might scoff the thought of a mere book making such a difference, prepare to be shocked at the prospect. I stumbled upon this by accident, at a car-boot sale, if I must confess. What a piece of luck - and at the heart of chance, I twice gave it up because the opening deals with submarines and naval operations, and I thought I'd surely be bored to tears with it - but to persevere was the key to third time lucky, and chiselling at the cover revealed the treasure behind. Jeff 'Del' DelGiudice was onboard the submarine that set off from Miami, the Unicorn of the National Undersea Exploration Team, when it was struck by the paradoxical storms of the Bermuda Triangle. With a number of miraculous survivors, some stark realities were discovered, before the expert crew fired them out of the ocean, only to find themselves in a different dimension of time, in a strange new world. Watched over by Calae, the guardian of the Colonnae, the land of Calva lay under the power of four wizards, previous mortals of that which was once Earth - all of equal firth, yet one corrupted by the power of evil, Morgan Thalasi. The humans, including Del, arrive onto this land, only to find that this tyrant sorcer
er is to unleash an attack which would tear the beautiful world apart, and they will decide the fate of how the war should end. This precious little world needs its saviour, and it prays that one of the chosen few can save its destiny. It all sounds very clichéd, but Salvatore pins some magic unto this fabulous story, even by some of the great simplicity within it. It is always full of gripping description; landscapes, people, atmospheres and battle choreography. For instance, at the very beginning, the juxtaposition between the desperate crew onboard the battered submarine and hope of survival for those that remained was striking. Following that, the acrid landscape was oppressive and torturing, compared to the paradise that he later convinces me of within Illuma, no more so than the magical Avalon, a Utopia beyond compare. The battle scenes near the conclusion are gripping - very much like 'The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers' with the battle of HelmsDeep: the Illumen populous of elves and the few humans who side with the side of truth forced against the great armies under the rule of Thalasi and his pawn, King Ungden. His characterisation is extremely strong and clear. From the outset, you immediately get the sense that Del is the special focus, but it becomes quite incredible how special this one man is. From just a few extra key phrases in the submarine section, the reader is left pointers suggesting that Del will become the focus and the questions answered. A great section of the tale is the ongoing feud between Del and his Captain, Mitchell. When Del is treated with more importance by all the folk the group encounter in their adventure, the Captain's sense of frustration increases. Yet Salvatore never takes anything to the measure that it becomes irritating or repetitive. For all the good characters in the book, they are all individuals, from the wise, calm Arien, his fiery assistant Ryell, and the valiant warrior, Belexus. As
Del's natural character becomes evident, he, and indeed, the reader, is treated to the acquaintances that he therefore develops, particularly with the wizards, the wardens of Calva. He develops into the ideal man, someone who you desperately want to follow, without being sickening. As well as the mounting tension for battle, the other excitement comes with the secretive and powerful relationship Del develops with the mysterious witch of Avalon, and the forest itself, who even the most prestigious and integral characters within the book can never see. It is at this stage, perhaps, that you realise the scale of Del's wondrousness. Yet, this is a man who is true to his soul, which nearly costs him everything in the final battle, and leads to an ending that I won't reveal in detail, but it did have me - embarrassingly enough for a teenage male, in tears. It's the perfect book for excitement and imagination but with clarity, a clear direction, and with a ringing note of purity within it. It's not overly religious, but is soul-searching, and is a true example of morals, truth and justice, which not even the hardest and least emotional person can hide from. This was first published in 1990, and the second and third episodes of the trilogy were released more recently, over 8 years after this opening novel. One word that does crop up frequently when I read reviews about this is 'raw', often as a criticism. Is this the reason why I love this? It's hard to say, but although I love much of Rob Salvatore's work, it seems this rawness is what makes 'Echoes of the Fourth Magic' so special. It is quite simple and extreme with everything - something with which I couldn't characterise the final two of the trilogy, which are both more graphic, and with more sweeping action and excitement. Yet this deals with the extremes of emotions, which the others couldn't, and the ease of reading this is certainly a plus with t
he opening to any trilogy, none less than a fantasy one, where the world created is purely imaginational. I am one with the world and many of the characters in this classic, unlike anything I've read, and it's a great, great shame that this book has never afflicted many in the same way it has me, and made the headlines I feel it so richly deserves. So, the critical reader of this review will curb me if I don't criticise this book in any way. I respond by saying there is very little I can do so. I did find the opening a little taxing, because the submarine journey is mainly an introduction to the characters, and doesn't bear a huge significance on the story as a whole. The book does not try and hide events - you quite often know what is to come, but there's always something a little unexpected, creating suspense, and at least offsetting the inevitable. There's certainly no happy ending either, at least not for the once peaceful world of Illuma. It`s a book that has everything for the fantasy reader. I feel the more sensitive and emotional the reader, the more this tale will grip them as it has myself. I read this first at the age of 14, and now once every year, with my 19th birthday in sight, and I go as far as to promote this work above anything I have encountered of Terry Brooks, the fantastic David Eddings and even the much loved Phillip Pullman. I suppose it is difficult to find superlatives to describe how we feel about our favourite book, music group, or film; something that hits us distinctly in some way and we know cannot be prised from a special place in our hearts, and this is certainly the case with myself and 'Echoes`'.