Raffi is preparing for the Deep Journey: his initiation from scholar to keeper. Worried that he will disappoint Galen, his harsh master, Raffi knows that failing the Deep Journey could mean madness or even death. But Galen is insistent that the attempt be made as soon as possible. The Watch is building a wall to try to keep out the chaos and disorder of the Unfinished Lands. Villages are raided to keep their project supplied with workers. Their companion Carys --- a former Watch spy --- disappears during such a raid, and the group isn't sure if she will be able to stand up to Watch torture methods, or if she is loyal to their cause. But Raffi fears that they are being hunted by something worse than the Watch. When he dreams, he sees the twisted visage of the Margrave, one of the Maker's failed experiments --- a creation of pure evil. And this time, Raffi is certain that the Margrave is coming for him.
"Not only is THE MARGRAVE an excellent read for those merely looking for adventure or escape, it's not afraid to confront the kinds of questions we, too, will face in our lives."
THE MARGRAVE is the startling conclusion to Catherine Fisher's Relic Master series. When Raffi disappears after an attempt at the Deep Journey, Galen must confront the outcome of his own fanatical faith. Carys has to decide once and for all where her loyalties lie. Ultimately, the travelers journey to the Pits of Maar, where they must confront not only the Margrave, but also knowledge about the origins of their world and the truth about themselves.
Four volumes in the making, Fisher has a difficult task in bringing the Relic Master series to its conclusion. Hints about the mysterious origins of Anara and the events that underpin the world's current conflicts have studded the narrative through the previous three books, leading readers to speculate about how the story will end. Will the Makers return, purifying the world and setting everything right again? Will the inhabitants of Anara leave the planet or find the technology to put things right? Will the solution to Anara's problems be technological or magical? To what extent is there a difference? How will the Order overcome evil when their philosophy of pacifism seems powerless against the brute force of the Watch? Is there anything they can do to save their broken world? What sacrifices will be made in the attempt?
I cannot answer these questions without spoiling the book for you. What I will say is this: No matter what you guess about the conclusion, you will be both wrong and right. Fisher carefully balances her narrative between different facets of conflict. The solution to Anara's problems requires the strength and compassion of all its inhabitants, mirroring many of the troubles we face in our world, and recognizing that even with our differences, any solution will require everyone to contribute and participate. As such, the conclusion to the series --- and the answer Raffi eventually encounters in his Deep Journey --- is a powerful and hopeful message that has potential to resonate far outside the pages of the book.
What I have always liked about Catherine Fisher's work is her willingness to engage readers in their own Deep Journey. Her books aren't afraid to ask difficult questions, or tackle the problems or outcomes of rigid beliefs. One of the most moving moments in THE MARGRAVE is when Galen, who has been rigorous in his beliefs despite the persecution of his Order, begins to question his faith:
"I don't know... why the Makers haven't kept their promise. Where are they? Why don't they come?... Haven't I done enough?... For years we've struggled, living like animals, hunted, burned out, always running, always trying to keep the relics, to keep the people close to what should be true. Have we become relics now? Where is Flain, and Soren, and Tamar? Are they dead, have they forgotten us, don't they care about our agony? Why don't they come...?"
The time will come --- even for those who are not particularly religious --- when our most cherished beliefs will fail us. Whether we are faithful like Galen, uncertain like Raffi, or doubting like Carys, the day will come when who we believed ourselves to be is no longer true, when knowledge or experience will require us to change our minds, or grow. When that happens, we should be so lucky to know that others have passed this way before.
Throughout the series, the characters refer to bits of their own mythology to help guide them on their way. They take courage from stories about The Makers; from the Litany held close to their hearts; or from the Rules imposed by the Watch to help bring clarity and order. There is wisdom in our world, too, to help guide the way. For some it is a religion, a code of ethics, a respected document, or holy writ. But there's no reason why books like Fisher's can't provide some comfort or illumination. Not only is THE MARGRAVE an excellent read for those merely looking for adventure or escape, it's not afraid to confront the kinds of questions we, too, will face in our lives.
"If faith dies, what's left?" Galen asks only a quarter of the way into the book. Quite a bit, it seems. And it takes the strengths and weaknesses of each of these characters --- in addition to the others they encounter, many whose roles seem unlikely or contradictory --- to find a solution to save their world. "The world is not dead," reads their Litany. "The world is alive, and breathes... her journey is forever."
Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on August 9, 2011