Irianeth by Anne Robillard – Review

October 9, 2013

Irianeth is the twelfth and final book in Robillard’s Chevaliers d’Emeraude, (Knights of Emerald) series.  In her native Quebec and also France Anne Robillard has a following like that of George R.R. Martin, complete with conventions and banquets, music and merchandise.  The series is, as of yet, not available in English, which is a real shame – it is a brilliant high fantasy series with compelling characters and wonderful worldbuilding.  If Anne or any publishing houses are reading this, please,  please publish this series in English so that fans the world over can share this fantastic tale.

However, as there is no English language version available, I will have to review the series for you. In terms of plot, Knights of Emerald follows a pretty standard fantasy trope: the Dark Emperor wants to take over the continent of Enkidiev and destroy it and, only the Knights of Emerald and their allies stand in his way.  Naturally, there is a prophecy predicting his downfall with both sides using magical means to ensure/prevent its fulfilment.  There are twelve books in the series of which Irianeth is the final one.  Although there is the overarching plotline of the final prophesied confrontation with the Dark Emperor, I would describe the series rather as episodic.  Generally, there isn’t one main storyline per book, but many mini adventures which feed into the character development and main story arc.

What elevates Knights of Emerald beyond your average high fantasy series is the excellent worldbuilding and relatable characters.  There is a whole hierarchy of magic users in Enkidiev ranging from your average Knight of Emerald, through master magicians, Immortals (who are the go-betweens between the gods and mortals) and the gods of Enkidiev led by the cold and distant Parandar.

Robillard has developed a whole history for her continent of Enkidiev and what I find astounding is to what extent that history has a real and vital impact on the lives of our protagonists.  In Robillard’s world, this attempt by the Dark Emperor to take over Enkidiev is the second such takeover bid in the history of Enkidiev.  The first assault was repelled by the first generation of the Knights of Emerald.  However, that first generation of Knights was seduced by the magical powers accorded to them by the Immortals and gods in order to fight off the Emperor and abandoned the code of chivalry.   When they refused to give up their power and cease using it to further their own selfish desires they were forcibly stripped of their powers and killed by the Immortal Abner.  This history is very much in the minds of King Emerald and Abner when they decide to resurrect the Order of the Knights of Emerald to face this second threat.  They decide to limit the powers accorded to this second generation of Knights to prevent this, which leads to some fantastic ongoing character conflict with the leader of the Order, Wellan.  Wellan resents this limitation when he is forced to watch his Knights and innocents die at the hands of the Emperor’s minions because his Knights don’t have the necessary powers to defend themselves.  Abner, for his part, must try to balance this need for additional powers with the risk of future abuses of that power.

Although the characters of the Knights of Emerald are living in a fantastical world, Robillard does an amazing job of keeping them relatable.  She doesn’t use the trope of having a character unfamiliar with the world act as an audience proxy.  Instead she has her characters deal with some very human issues in addition to the more fantastical ones.  Certainly, few of her readers will have experienced battling supernatural beetles to save a continent.  More will have experienced uncertainty about his or her ability to live up to others’ expectations, like our Lightbearer Lassa, or like Bridgess had to watch a loved one become involved with someone who is only using them or like Onyx allowed a need for revenge cause them to take actions that would have been better left undone.

The character who brings together this historical backstory and character development is Onyx.  Veteran of the first war against the Dark Emperor, he must reconcile his desire to protect and avenge his loved ones and the continent of Enkidiev with his all-consuming thirst for revenge on Abner for what he did to the first generation of Knights.  The fact that he is in a position of real power makes this a particularly key internal conflict for the Knights of Emerald and the continent as a whole, and Robillard describes this conflict beautifully.  In terms of well written, intriguing characters I would say Onyx is the Snape of the Knights of Emerald.

In terms of weaknesses in the series, pacing isn’t Robillard’s strongest point.  This is highlighted by the fact that by 87% of the way through the final book the three protagonists of the prophecy weren’t even on the same continent much less in a position to confront each other!  Clearly, in these circumstances there is no way for the ending to be anything other than rushed.

Robillard has a tendency also to take the safer route.  Two major characters were “killed” in the final book – that could have been a great opportunity to show the sacrifices made by the Knights to save the continent, yet the deaths didn’t stick.  For me, personally, this was a real disappointment.  Don’t get me wrong; I don’t enjoy having my protagonists killed off, but one of the major themes of the series is a code of chivalry, risking one’s life to defend the defenceless.  Having most of our heroes survive the conflict weakened this for me considerably.

Despite these weaknesses, Knights of Emerald is a wonderful, wonderful series filled with passionate and relatable characters and is well worth reading.

I gave Irianeth four stars out of five, but the series as a whole five stars out of five.

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