WARRIOR OF THE ALTAII by Robert Jordan (Book Review)
‘Our drums began to play again, a battle beat, and the war flutes joined in. The masses of horsemen began to move, rolling forward in a tide that gained speed with every step. Their war cries drifted ahead of them, shrill in the cold air.
I nocked an arrow and drew it back to rest on my cheekbone, the bow held high. Salvation rests on the bow.’
I’m a huge fan of the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan; it was a series I read some years ago that left such an impact on me that I consider it to be one of my all-time favourites. When I heard that his publisher Tor were releasing Warrior of the Altaii, Jordan’s first ever fantasy novel, well as you can imagine I was desperate to get my hands on it. Was I expecting it to be a masterpiece? Of course not, this novel was written in the 70s and after a few failed attempts was never officially published, therefore I had my doubts as to how good it would actually be. However, what I did expect was something that was nostalgic, that felt distinctly as though I was back in Jordan’s world; something that was an old-school fantasy.
Did this book meet my expectations? Damn right it did, and truth be told, I got more than I was expecting. Warrior of the Altaii is wonderfully dark, action packed, and brimming with memorable characters and a fascinating magic system. This wasn’t just an incredibly nostalgic read for me; this book had me captivated from beginning to end. I’m not saying you’re going to read something innovative here; this is a 352-page standalone, written in a first-person perspective, so if you’re expecting anything as elaborate and epic as Wheel of Time, then you’ll be disappointed. What I am saying is that this book, being an early 70s fantasy, and a debut at that, is still an awesome read which stands on its own merits, and simultaneously showcases some similar ideas for what is to come in Jordan’s future works.
I’ll now delve briefly into what Warrior of the Altaii is all about. The Altaii people are on the brink of ruin. Not only does the barren dry wasteland of the Plain threaten them with drought and starvation, but now a new threat emerges. In Lanta, residing in the Palace of the Twin Thrones, sit two twin queens. They wish to grow their domain and strength by annihilating the savage barbarians they perceive the Altaii to be. Our main protagonist, Wulfgar, leader of the Altaii warriors, is bound by a prophecy foretelling that he shall either ensure his people’s survival, or his failure will cause his people to fall.
What a premise, right? I’ve always had a soft spot for fantasies that involve prophecies; I really enjoy seeing it all unfold, and of course I love infamous warriors, so my attention was immediately hooked! Throughout the book I was surprised by how well Jordan paced the narrative; he balanced politics and action scenes with a good healthy dose of magic, delivering many exciting moments that simply entertained me. My favourite part was the ending, because there was one mother of a battle which in my opinion is how every fantasy book should end! I’m kidding, but seriously I just want to convey that there were many aspects of this book that just hit the right spot for me.
‘“The Altaii way of life is hard. To live it, to survive the Plain, takes a hard man. So, from the time a boy is big enough to walk, he begins to train. He learns to fight, with nothing but his hands and feet, first, then later with sword, dagger, lance, bow, with every weapon the Altaii have ever encountered. He learns to ride, until a horse is near a part of his body, until guiding his mount is as much instinct as breathing.”’
Something I have always admired in Jordan’s work is that he continuously manages to create impressive enriched characters. Warrior of the Altaii was no exception. I found Wulfgar to be a highly flawed character who was ever rash in making decisions. He was quick to antagonise others when he felt his honour threatened, and sometimes this cost him more than he anticipated. Yet at his heart he truly loved his people, and all he wanted was for them to survive and thrive. There are also some fantastic female characters depicted here; whether they were a villain or an ally of the Altaii people, they were always full of power and fierceness. I couldn’t help but compare the Sisters of Wisdom in the book (females who could use magic and runes) as being extremely reminiscent of the Wise Ones in Wheel of Time. A few standout female characters included Mayra, a Sister of Wisdom, and Elspeth, a Wanderer from another world.
I won’t go into too much detail about the many other comparisons I encountered to the Wheel of Time series, as part of the magic of this book, for fans of Jordan, is discovering these for yourself. I should point out here it is not necessary for you to have read the Wheel of Time series or any other books by Jordan in order for you to read this, but there are many seeds planted here that grew to be developed later on, and I think you’ll mostly discover this in the world building and cultural representation. A large part of this novel involves scenes of torture and punishments; this is a dark book, and I would even go as far as to say it’s a brilliant example of an early grimdark. The Altaii and the Latans alike have a strict cultural hierarchy, and those who deviate from it face lashings, or torture either by use of magic or mentally. It’s all about control here; if you’ve read Wheel of Time, you’ll instantly know which race this reminded me of!
Lastly, I thank Harriett McDougal, Jordan’s widow and editor at Tor, for allowing this tale to see the light of day. I for one am glad to have read it. I also loved how this hardback edition included a fully coloured map on the end pages, an engraved Robert Jordan signature under the dust jacket, and a printed signature on the title page; it’s truly a special book indeed, one I’ll always treasure.
ARC provided by Tor UK in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the copy!