C.J. Cherryh – Well Of Shiuan

While the basic concept behind the Chronicles Of Morgaine allows for standalone stories C.J. Cherryh chooses to tell her fantasy trilogy in a more traditional way. Well Of Shiuan (1978) is a direct sequel to Gate Of Ivrel although the story would still work reasonably well on its own as it is set on a different world and environment. Knowing what has happened before does help understand things better as there are multiple ties that bind the story to Gate Of Ivrel.

Well Of Shiuan is essentially a disaster story. While there currently is a popular market for post-apocalyptic novels Well Of Shiuan focuses on how people behave and act when it is happening. The story is however told from the view of the outsider who does not completely know what is going on or why people are behaving like that. He has missed much of what has happened before and has not experienced the decline of the world as other have. To be exact, he does not care much at all as he his on a mission of his own. So what the reader gets is fragments. Nevertheless they are more than powerful enough to convey the atmosphere of this world.

The arrival of the outsiders are a catalyst for the events in the novel. Things occur rapidly. At first it may seem odd to the reader but soon it becomes clear that everyone has been seeking a way out. I had quite a bit of trouble with it myself before I understood how the author viewed the world she had created. In a way it was necessary for her because the novel is not long and the plot only has one central setting in which most of the drama and interaction happens. That is basically how the story is set up. There is a slow introductory part while the finale is of a similar length but much more rushed.

While all these events are going on the central theme of the novel is however the fragile relationship between the sidekick and the central character of the story, of whom, like in Gate Of Ivrel, we see half as much, as the sidekick keeps getting parted from her for several periods. I had hoped there would be some improvement on that part because she is far more interesting than the sidekick. The sidekick, our main protagonist, is not a very likable person as he is full of doubts and can’t seem to make up his mind. His erratic behaviour is thus annoying and it seems all to fitting that his master does not trust or depend too much on him. She tests him as she does not desire to remain alone but she wants to make sure he is well committed.

The plot of Well Of Shiuan is much more simpler than Gate Of Ivrel. While the central part is focused and holds the most development there is far less exploration and development of the rest of this new world in which the story is set. Perhaps it was all Cherryh really had to tell and she did not see interesting developments beyond the central story she wanted to tell. It does leave a more focused story that in its harrowing nature is quite effective. I cannot say I enjoyed this story particularly well. I do like a more balanced plot and a bit more exploration. Narrating the story only from the viewpoint of the sidekick, who I don’t like much, does not help much either. I only get happy when his master returns to him so that he is given some direction instead of being indecisive all the time. There is still another novel to go in the trilogy and I do am interested in how it will come to a conclusion because despite the weaknesses this is a unique story unlike any other fantasy story and that does make it worthwhile to read.

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