Beyond The Pale by Mark Anthony
|Book Name:||Beyond The Pale|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Release Date:||November 2, 1999|
I stumbled across this book entirely by accident almost a decade ago when I was on a working holiday in Australia. I had been in Sydney for several weeks working temporary jobs, doing the tourist bit and sampling the delights of various backpacker hostels. It was a blast but I’d reached the point where I was starting to miss home luxuries such as my bookshelf. And so it was that I found myself wandering the book section in a supermarket at lunchtime, scanning the covers, and turning away in disappointment from bestseller types and romances.
Then a book caught my eye, mainly because it was so at odds with those surrounding it. The title Beyond The Pale spoke instantly to me of magic and imagined worlds, and it ignited the spark of what I’d been missing: a good fantasy adventure. I took in the front cover with its mysterious crowned figure – The Pale King – and read the first line of the back cover, which encouraged me to “walk between the worlds.” That was it; I was sold. Never mind the tight budget I was living on, never mind that I had been eating $1 meals and scraping by for weeks, I had to buy this book, and to this day I am glad I did.
It was one of those books that the moment I started reading the prologue I was hooked. It opens in the windy Colorado Mountains and a strange preacher appears with an otherworldly air and a good prophecy. He is every bit as sinister and mysterious as his entourage and sets the tone of the book nicely with a billboard and a circus tent:
“Brother Cy’s Apocalyptic Traveling Salvation Show.”
Cut to Travis, a simple saloonkeeper in Castle City who keeps to himself and enjoys his quiet life. But the Colorado wind blows in Travis’ direction carrying the sound of far-off bells and his life is disrupted. A panicked phone call sends Travis racing off to the old antique shop to meet his friend Jack Graystone. Jack tells Travis he is in grave danger but cannot explain the reasons why. He entrusts Travis with a precious keepsake and tells him to flee for his life.
It is here that the book takes a dramatic turn and hurls us out of the familiar confines of earth. Confused, hunted, and instantly out of his depth, Travis runs and is inexplicably drawn to Brother Cy and his strange companions. The preacher also gives him a gift and then Travis becomes distracted by a movement in the billboard and falls into another world.
Grace Beckett is an emergency room doctor in Denver. She is skilled, ruthlessly efficient, but introverted and never quite fit in anywhere. She lives only to work but a feeling creeps over her that somehow things are supposed to be different. As she sets out for work she hesitates and knows deep down that she won’t be coming back.
An unusual patient leads her to a rather abrupt discovery of magic and danger, and she too finds herself in the presence of Brother Cy. After a brief encounter and an unwelcome brush with her past, Grace also finds herself falling.
The story picks up with both characters now on the world of Eldh, and though they find themselves in different circumstances, they both face very real danger. Grace and Travis go through sharp learning curves to acquaint themselves with the customs of medieval Eldh and come to terms with the power that lies dormant in each of them. Linked together by strange symbols and the sound of bells, they find their journeys converging as they become caught up in political plots and have to face the power of The Pale King.
Beyond The Pale is a fairly classic high fantasy narrative, swiftly taking us out of earth’s comfort zone and into a new world. But there are a lot of stereotypes in here and you could not say it is the most original of fantasy landscapes. There are definite similarities in terms of the mentor characters with some well-known fantasy authors and the magic is instantly recognisable.
That isn’t to say that this doesn’t work for the book though. It means we can empathise with the characters and their situations straight away. It means we can understand the conventions and constraints of the magics and follow the journey without having to analyse, learn anything too new, or get bogged down in description. Instead, it means we can focus on the story, and it is the story that is the strength in this book.
Right from the start it flows easily, giving us enough worldbuilding without embroiling us in pages and pages of descriptions and explanations. The author describes the world in clever, minimalist ways, for example using phrases like ‘not-juniper’ to describe certain trees. The bitter drink ‘maddok’ is comparable enough to coffee for us to taste it and so the story can move on without interruption.
Anthony gives us enough time with both Grace and Travis that we get a real sense of each character’s desires and restrictions, fears and flaws. Their plots converge to bring them together and without the abilities of both and the key pieces of the puzzle that each provides, they would not be able to stand against The Pale King and his minions.
This is the first book in a series and it raises as many questions as it answers about what will happen next. As someone who has read them all, I can say that the adventures only get bigger, the plots more complex, and the characters more unique as time goes on.
These are the only books by this author that I have read, although that needs to be remedied because to this day The Last Rune series remains one of my all time favourites. Now writing as Galen Beckett – love the connection to Grace Beckett there – the author is still working and the next series will definitely go on my ‘to read’ list. I can’t recommend this book more and it delivers exactly what you want from it: pace, plot and good old-fashioned fantasy.