It pains me to write this but I didn’t really like “Age of Death”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad book per se. It’s just that it feels flat and – ironically – lifeless. That’s probably why it took me almost a month to finish it.
“Age of Death” starts where Age of Legend, the previous book, left off with a huge cliffhanger. Now our heroes move on into, uh, a sort of different realm… No, this won’t do: If you haven’t read the previous book yet, stop reading this review here – afterwards spoilers for the series as a whole might lurk!
So, without further ado: Our heroes waded into the pool and died. They now enter the “afterlife” and meander through the different realms of it. This is my first issue: I’m an antitheist. Even if I suspend my disbelief and my opposition to anything related to faith, I’m simply not interested in any such ideas. Michael J. Sullivan is one of my favourite authors but even his ideas on afterlife are irrelevant to me even though I found myself at one time wishing he was right:
“In that world beyond the veil of death, we found that those we had thought to be lost forever had only been misplaced.”
The blurb tells me: “In the tradition of Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the most epic of tales transcend the world of the living. It’s time to see what lies in Elan’s Age of Death.”
I haven’t read either Virgil, Dante or Milton and I don’t intend to. You might consider me a barbarian or uncultured – whatever: I think the “classics” have mostly outlived themselves and belong to the past from which they originated. Amusingly, it was one of those classic authors who expressed a similar thought in a way that has imprinted itself on me at least 30 years ago and has stayed with me ever since:
“There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.” Voltaire, in a letter to Cardinal de Bernis (23 April 1761)
Keep your truths, Dante, and explore your hell but I’m not interested in it. Similarly, I found the ideas Michael expresses somewhat alluring but not really interesting – Brin, Roan, Gifford and the others move through Rel and Nifrel and, yes, have to overcome a lot of obstacles but everything feels slightly off: The pacing is very uneven – there are long passages during which hardly anything happens and then there are huge battles but even those feel somehow anticlimactic – they’re all dead already so what danger is there? Yes, there is the danger of losing oneself by not believing enough in oneself being but instead of exploring that idea, it’s simply presented and – seemingly – forgotten about.
And before I knew it, just before our friends reach their destination, the book ends with yet another cliffhanger. Ok, I half-expected that but in the previous book’s “Author’s Note” Michael explicitly warned us about it but didn’t do so this time so I was hoping…
Apart from the issues I’ve already mentioned there’s the fact that a lot of characters, e. g. Persephone, hardly make an entrance. Yes, we see Persephone “in passing”, so to speak, but she isn’t really around. Nor are many others, like Suri who might have featured very prominently but only did so shortly early on. It was disappointing for me.
And yet… Michael is an amazing author: Whatever he writes about, his storytelling is believable, full of warmth and, well, comforting. If Michael ever did a mystery kickstarter, I’d chime in. Even if I knew nothing and there was no information whatsoever. Because I love how and what Michael writes.
“You want to create?” Nyphron said. Malcolm ignored him. “Just consider what could be done if wars were a thing of the past and everyone worked together.”
Yes, “Age of Death” was a disappointment but I can’t help myself so let me go ahead and say it out loud: