Review: Set sail in Kevin J. Anderson's epic fantasy trilogy

As the first volume's evocative title, The Edge of the World, suggests, the Terra Incognita series isn't just another dinar-a-dozen quest fantasy. Instead of sending his characters to find a sword or destroy a talisman, Kevin J. Anderson takes his cue from our Age of Discovery. His ambitious new Terra Incognita saga presents a truly epic quest: the search for new lands and continents.

The discovery of new worlds demands a vast canvas, and Anderson adroitly provides it. The Edge of the World incorporates at least two continents, three religions, multiple subplots and a big cast.

Some of the characters include the Tierrans' wise king, Korastine, who faces an ever-worsening religious war with the Urabans; his ward, Mateo Bornan, who is changed in abominable ways by the war; a sailor, Criston Vora, who signs on to a disastrous exploratory voyage; his wife, Adrea, who is kidnapped by the enemy Urabans; the Urabans' wise soldan-shah, Imir, who faces an ever-worsening religious war with the Tierrans; and his resourceful heir Omra, who loves the kidnapped Tierran woman, Adrea, even as he inflicts atrocities upon her people.

As terms like "atrocities" and "abominable" indicate, The Edge of the World is morally ambiguous, with good people committing horrendous acts in the name of God, or faith, or love. Making morally ambiguous characters sympathetic and believable requires an author to delve deeply into their minds, revealing their contradictions and developing their complexities.

Too often, Anderson doesn't. Too often, instead of showing us his characters' thoughts and feelings, he tells us they're angry, impatient, tired, crestfallen, and so on. This puts distance between characters and readers. And, in a context of humans committing monstrous acts, this distance may leave readers more often disturbed or repelled by the characters' actions than sympathetic to their horrible plights.

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