The Road to Rebirth is the second entry in Dean F. Wilson’s Children of Telm trilogy, after The Call of Agon; in fact, not only that, but it opens less than an hour after the previous book ends. And given that Wilson doesn’t really offer a summary of the previous book or any kind of glossary/list of characters, I definitely spent the first couple of chapters trying to remember who was who and where exactly we left things. (I feel like that’s a peril of high fantasy, especially when you have a dense cast of characters and lore like Wilson has created here.) Luckily, though, Wilson’s naturally gift for storytelling allowed me to follow everything that was happening in this second book while slowly reminding myself of the stakes and our characters.
If The Call of Agon was Wilson’s Fellowship of the Ring, with the characters uniting and defining the nature of their threat, then The Road to Rebirth could easily be his Two Towers. His group of heroes has suffered a massive setback, and they’ve scattered to the winds. Some have fallen in their battles; some are greviously wounded; and worst of all, their one possibility for victory – a child who was the incarnation of a god – has died. It’s classic “middle book” fare, as the quest evolves and we expand the scope.
But as usual, Wilson does it in an imaginative, unique way, expanding his story in directions that I never expected. A wounded hero returns home to a kingdom where he never belonged. One character finds himself amongst heroes he only knows from legend. And most surprisingly, we dive into the land of the dead, where the rise of the demon Agon is most imminent. On every front, Wilson expands the lore and depth of his world, fleshing out new gods, new legends, and new complexities.
But the primary story of the book revolves around a desperate attempt to revive the dead god, as a cluster of forces for good huddle in a besieged fortress and try to hold the line. It’s here that Wilson’s knack for action sequences shines through as usual, giving us a chaotic, tense siege where the stakes are always clear and the cost is always known. Battle sequences of this scale are a strength of Wilson’s (see his Great Iron War series), but it’s still nice to see him use those skills in his high fantasy mode and not miss a beat.
While I enjoyed The Call of Agon, there’s little denying for me that The Road to Rebirth is by far the superior entry in the series. Yes, part of that is due to not having to set the stage and offer the exposition necessary for a series like this. But more than that, Wilson’s interweaving of plot threads, plus the central drive, gives the story a quick, solid momentum that I loved. And even better, the story is allowing the themes of this saga – responsibility, morality, our relationships with gods, and more – to find rich and complex expression in its characters. I enjoyed Call of Agon a lot, but Road to Rebirth is fantastic, and just a great read, through and through.