I find, not infrequently, that the more I read, the more I enjoy what I read, and Sean Russell's book is a definite demonstration of this fact. I probably wouldn't have enjoyed reading it at all if I hadn't first read The Lunar Men; many of the circumstances illustrated in the book would have escaped me entirely.
World Without End follows the travels of Tristram Flattery, a somewhat naive young man with ambitions to be an Empiricist . . . in modern parlance, a natural philosopher, one step down from being a scientist. He is thrown into a world of adventure, politics, and ancient mysteries when he is tasked with reviving a plant vital to his king's health.
His world is not unlike our own; it's so similar, in fact, that I found myself occasionally playing the "what does this correspond to in the real world?" game more than once. The only striking difference is that, shortly before the rise of this new Empiricism, there were magicians. No one really knows anything about them, and when the last of them died he took pains to see that this should be so. Somehow, the king's illness, the plant, and the magicians are intertwined in ways that Flattery cannot comprehend; involving himself with one has seemingly involved him with them all.
The pace of the book is very slow and stately, almost British in its understatement; the relationships between characters are both reserved and complex. I very much enjoyed it, but it's no thriller.
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