The Battle for Darracia, by Michael Phillip Cash - 4 Stars

Darracia, Darracia, Darracia, everything in this series happens in threes. This is a trilogy, with each book themed on the introduction of one of the essential corner stones of harmony (the balance of air, land and sea) and development of the main species associated with each. There are three elements, which take on glowing forms as conversing elementals, three colours which represent an individual’s inner intentions, three systems of social control and three main species (or so you’d think). The baddies come in ones: one evil goddess, one badly behaved race, one nasty organic drug.

Just as religions describe three aspects of something that can also be thought of as melded into a single concept or gestalt entity and tripartite governance involves an equal division of power between three chambers that are still one and the same government, the theme of this book is the reconciliation and unification of three competing sides into one movement that may provide direction, equality and justice for all, three cheers, or fail spectacularly. What a mouthful. On Earth, lots of people usually have to suffer very badly before any kind of improvement happens because vested interests don’t like it (Vesta = goddess of things on fire) and that also turns out to be the case in this story.

I mistook this series for science fiction before I started reading, which was entirely my mistake for judging a book by its cover image and typeface. Although it has extra-terrestrial species and interplanetary travel, there are almost no science fiction predictive ideas or mechanisms because it is not that angle of imagination the author is exploring here. There is magic (forces not appearing in the Newtonian model) that they tap into, so I would therefore classify this as a swords and sorcery fantasy story with an encouraging line in right-on social direction: emancipation, equality and racial bonding etc. The monarchy remains intact as an institution, although the story is quite rough on individuals, so I guess the author decided the chopping of the social order had to stop somewhere, i.e. while the reformers still held the moral ascendancy. The metaphors associated with our world and social change are never deeply disguised, so the audience can’t miss their free education.

I noticed there are no actual countries on the worlds that this author has created, just planets and their leading species, so these creations club together by genetic type rather than also by geographical similarities or which side of a border they birthed in (as we do). Life must be so much simpler for them. Although, they do form factions in power struggles, which is the truck engine that drives the plot. They can also breed across the species barrier, which (on Earth at least) indicates a common ancestor not too far back, which reinforces the idea that they could live collectively.

The author’s writing style is planned and professional rather than soulful and poetic or erratically unique, so all the little pay-offs I got came from the plot rather than the exquisite jam sandwiches of vocabulary. I keep wanting to tell authors that decimate affects only ten percent, but that’s picky.

Once you’ve got used to the fiery swords and treachery, seen the high brought to their knees, the unworthy elevated to untenable positions of despicability and travelled with the heroes as they’ve been dragged through and around the mulberry bush a few times to earn their scratches and let you know they’ve been altered by the experience, the story grips and swings you along through the alien trees, beneath the waves, past two good twists and then on to its predictable conclusion.

It’s quite an entertaining ride with a balanced range of characters and some atmospheric scenes, notably going along tubes within a hollow volcano and abseiling down the purple cliffs of Binna or whatever it was to harvest plants growing on the sheer rock face. The battle ending to each part was the standard resolution we’ve come to expect from these things, with reinforcements in the nick of time (Bl├╝cher at Waterloo, Gandalf at Helms Deep) but used sensibly enough to make us feel we might be reading web-footed salvation for the first time in fiction. Noticing the patterns of three, I rooted for the heroes, booed the bullies and had moments where I got entangled, so that’s my expectations fulfilled really.