It’s almost become a fun trope of fantasy novels to see how many of them feature a dense and absurd glossary of terms in the back of them. For a long time, it was almost a requirement of the genre (I constantly used them as I read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, for instance), but they’ve fallen by the wayside over the years. And while generally I’m fine with that, there have definitely been times as I’ve read Dean F. Wilson’s epic fantasy trilogy series The Children of Telm that I could have used one. With its dense style, its huge cast of characters, and its epic scope, it’s easy to lose one’s way for a bit in Wilson’s world, or to fear that you may be missing out on some of the details.
But what makes The Children of Telm so great – and in particular, what makes The Chains of War, the final book in the series – is that not only did I follow every page of the book even without remembering every detail, but that I found myself wanting to read the entire series over again, to see how Wilson had been writing these details from the beginning and how much of the world and the story’s arc had been foreshadowed since the beginning. Wilson is playing with any number of tropes of the genre – an ancient evil released from its bonds, the gods reincarnating themselves in mortal bodies, the armies of the dead amassing, a love of the natural world that may lend itself to certain powers – and yet, The Chains of War (and the series as a whole) never feels like anything other than itself, and the characters become wholly their own. Yes, they may have started as archetypes, but they become something far more compelling and unique as the series has continued, with moral debts, shades of complexity, guilt that hangs over them, and a difficulty grappling with their own powers.
In many ways, as much as I loved Wilson’s Great Iron War series, it feels like The Children of Telm may be his greater accomplishment, in no small part because of how far Wilson pushes his writing. Consciously mimicking the formal, “ancient” diction of Tolkien and other high fantasy writers, Wilson lets his words carry some of the weight of his world-building, turning this story into a chronicle of something larger and more ambitious. That he does this while still letting the characters live and breathe, while still bringing out ambiguities and nuances, while still surprising with plot points – that’s no small feat.
Look, The Chains of War is hard to describe – it’s the final book in a fantasy series, and builds on what’s come before it. To talk about what happens in here would ruin some of the joy of the rest of this series, or of the surprises to come in its pages – the sudden realization of what’s causing the ancient evil to be unleashed, the slow dawning of how our heroes can fulfill the prophecies, the cost of the battles, and a perfect epilogue that not only concludes the story, but also gives us closure on the characters. But it manages that difficult feat of concluding a fantasy series in a satisfying way that feels both appropriate and surprising, delivering an exciting story that ends the series but doesn’t feel like it’s just the formula playing out. It’s a great read from an author whose quiet, assured talent has been pleasing me for book after book, and really pays off so well here. In short, if you like high fantasy? You owe this one a read. Just, you know, maybe read them all back to back, and don’t wait months like I did.