This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.
“It is a sign of a progressive society that dissent is allowable – anything else is a form of homogeneity such as the inferior herd-minded and cattle-headed peoples are likely to accept”
Malarkoi is the second instalment in a proposed fantasy trilogy that began with Mordew. Although complex and detailed, the world Pheby built in the earlier book was presented at a surface level, the characters and their relationships to each other key. Now the author takes the reader deeper into the workings of the cities focusing on the powerful and what they hope to gain from manipulating underlings and the places they traverse.
Many characters return. The Master remains at Mordew, necessary as his power is largely derived from God’s corpse, which is still stored in the catacombs beneath the city. The Mistress is more fluid. Nathan’s mother plays a role of greater significance than before, although in offering further explanation as to how the world operates the reader will come to understand why she raised her son in the slums – and why her husband contracted lung worm. Nathan’s gang friends and those who pull their strings divide into groups, each granted their own quest.
The plot of Malarkoi brought to mind The Lord of the Rings. There is much journeying in which travellers face perils amidst beautiful surroundings that have been despoiled as those wielding power attempt to gain the upper hand. The death count is high. Few of the characters prove likable, other than the dogs.
“Loneliness is like a vacuum – it is an absence that draws anything and everything into it”
There are huge swathes of exposition as the author attempts to make clear the workings of the weft and those who manipulate it. The writing is more existential than previously, understandable for those familiar with Pheby’s body of work but not, perhaps, always so noticeable in fantasy. While I never felt lectured at, there was a definite message being conveyed.
The weft is centre stage and an interesting concept. Time is meaningless here. It passes, as time must, but it is possible for those with the power to move around in time and space, although this comes at a cost.
Events from Mordew are expanded and explained, given back story and then progressed. The reader is learning more details about this world and those who reside therein.
Then there is death. It happens, regularly, but what comes next may be better given the lives so many have no choice but to live. This message – obvious propaganda – enables the powerful to obtain willing sacrifices, necessary for their magic.
“Recognition is only the beginning of knowledge and is no substitute for comprehension”
How the Master controls his realm is also complex. Details provided are lengthy and still not entirely clear on first reading. Having said that, the story is meticulously plotted. Character development takes more of a back stage. The reader comes to understand why they act as they do but it is more challenging to empathise given choices made.
The details and intrigues make for somewhat slow reading in places as each thread is progressed separately. As is so often the case in fantasy, a being in possession of magical power is depicted as awe inspiring, able to overcome all obstacles, only for something to happen that appears to defeat or negate abilities.
Within these pages there are: mystical creatures, murder, resurrection, joyful interludes, unexpected dangers, friendship, and treachery.
Pheby depicts power in a depressingly realistic way. It may be used to hurt enemies. When enemies also have power the fallout on lesser beings is devoid of compassion, regarded as collateral damage. Bellow’s brother, Adam, tells a bedtime story that gets to the heart of this – how the general population can be lead so easily.
The dogs make a welcome return and play key roles. The epilogue on Sirius was more moving than what had gone before, and why this should be is explored. Appendices offer further detail on episodes gone before, intriguingly on an Assembly, mentioned briefly and perhaps a subject of the next instalment.
Mordew introduced Nathan Treeves, a boy with power the unleashing of which caused mighty change, not least to himself. Malarkoi makes Mordew look parochial in the wider world, although still relevant due to its storage of God’s corpse. The ‘religions’ described see heavens turn into hells. We learn why the Master and Mistress wish to defeat each other and how they plan to do so. There are several gods but it is the weftlings who take centre stage here.
“the past is always gone, and one must find happiness where one may”
With one more instalment still to go, not all questions are answered. It is clear that there will be outside forces to contend with, but the roles given to the weft population – few of whom seem to entirely disappear even when killed – will be of interest.
Any Cop?: This sort of deep diving fantasy fiction offers more on each perusal, drawing in readers eager to discuss the layers and conspiracies. I suspect that in future years, when Cities of the Weft has become the classic it deserves to be, there will be plenty of aficionados with views and theories the author himself may not have considered apposite.