Medieval Midlife Crisis Reaches Boiling Point in Pedersen's BURNING WITH ANGST

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Burning With Angst

David J. Pedersen's ANGST saga continues to be a breathtaking adventure. The titular hero, Angst, is in his forties and living the life he dreamed of when he was younger -- being that of a hero saving his family, his friends, his country, and quite possibly all the world. Unfortunately, it comes at a cost far beyond creaking bones and physical exhaustion.

Angst is a magic weilder -- even a powerful one. But his magic became that much stronger when he bonded with Chrysleanor, a foci in the form of a sword as tall and as wide as a very tall and very wide man. This made Angst an Al'eyrn, a sort of super magic user of legend. Then Angst did the impossible and bonded with a second foci, Dulgirgraut, a sword of similar proportions but entirely different power. This made Angst something hitherto unseen in history, something that shouldn't exist.

And he thought his life was hard before.

By the end of DROWNING IN ANGST, Angst had conquered the elementals Earth and Water, Air having been beaten along the way, apparently too insubstantial to be the subject of his own book. He had returned Victoria to the throne of Unsel, and was ready to settle down, give up the life of the hero, and raise his newborn twins with his long-suffering wife, Heather.

And then an undead princess with irresistable bosoms stabbed Victoria with a third foci, leaving her to die in Angst's arms as he casts a world-shaking spell to save her. I had to wonder at that moment, as those final words closed out the novel, "How the hell is Pedersen going to worm himself out of this one?"

The answer: With genius and aplomb.

With the fate of his country and his (now) queen in the balance, Angst doesn't have a choice but to be thrust back into an adventures -- this time with a group of fighters he does not know, and who are untested in battle with magical forces. His friends are trapped in an abandoned city that won't let them escape, Victoria is frozen in temporal stasis as blood ever-so-slowly drips from her body -- and Angst's wife is withholding the names of his twins because she believes Angst crossed a line of fidelity in his last adventure.

To be sure, for a middle-aged gray-haired adventurer, Angst has the women throwing themselves at him. For most of us, opportunity knocks once and is gone. For Angst, opportunity knocks (with knockers, all pun intended!) with all the persistence and regularity of a Jehovah's Witness bearing a search warrant, calling out loud enough for the neighbors to hear, "I know you're in there, I can see you through the window." That trend continues in BURNING WITH ANGST, this time with a young stowaway who watches with a judgmental eye and a mind for tattling when the adventure is over.

Angst's companions include Faeoris, a Berfemmian warrior who manifests wings when she needs them and who doesn't understand why Angst won't sleep with her; Maarja, a Nordruaut who towers over all of them and who covers herself somewhat with a few furs; Jintorich, the last of the Meldusians, who fits in the palm of Maarja's hand and carries a number of secrets; Aerella, a woman whose age and skills change from one moment to the next as she lives life in anything but chronological order; and Kala, a magic-weilding child who can emulate any spell she sees and who shares a bond with Angst's dog, Scar -- itself a Labrador puppy when it's not a house-sized six-eyed hellhound. As Angst learns what they can do, they come up against the last two remaining elements who wage their bi-millenial war for rule over all the world -- Fire, and Magic. But Magic has been allied with Fire, meaning that Fire should already technically have won, right? That might have been the case in the old days, before Angst declared himself the Element: Human. That's Angst, always standing up to bullies no matter how deep over his head he ends up wading.

With Magic running its own game and manipulating players over the course of the entire series, the ANGST saga continues to duck and weave, throwing the reader for one loop after another, in a relentless race to the end, which itself is only another curve in an ongoing roller coaster.

ANGST is a love letter to those in a mixed-marriage -- the fantasy geek with the spouse who has finally and begrudgingly acceded that this isn't a phase to be grown out of. It hits all the right notes for fans of the fantasy genre, with equal parts humor and tragedy. At the tavern of fantasy writers, Pedersen is the one making Robert Asprin laugh out loud while at the same time telling George R.R. Martin to stop coddling his characters. BURNING WITH ANGST continues the tradition of introducing the reader to characters they will loathe, love, and miss terribly when it's all said and done (and sometimes even before).

Got Angst? Get it!

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0