“The lunatic, the lover, and the poet, are of imagination all compact.”
—A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare
Tracy Hickman is the best-selling author of the popular D&D Dragonlance fantasy novels. Together, he and his wife Laura also authored a number of role-playing games while working for TSR, the company founded by the legendary Gary Gygax. Unwept is the first book in an eventual trilogy entitled Nightbirds, which straddles the fantasy/horror/mystery genres.
In this first book, we meet Ellis, a young woman who awakens on a train with no idea of who she is. The time frame is approximately the 1920s and the town she and her escort arrive at seems to be an ordinary small town of that era. The town doctor takes Ellis to a large, isolated house where she is to live with her cousin Jenny, and assures her that with rest and time her memory will return.
From there, people, places, and events grow increasingly more distorted from the norm. Enigmatic shipwrecks, cultish town gatherings, erotic nocturnal phantom visitors- the story is a slow, mystical striptease reveal of its premise. The characters and settings are all drawn with a gracefully transcendental tone that enhances the mystery of the novel.
The primary weakness, however, of Unwept derives from what seems to be an ex post facto design of the trilogy series. Many wonderful books are indeed designed as series or simply spawn sequels in the authors’ imaginations. To me however, it is far preferable, series or no, if a book can claim its own completeness and present equally strongly singularly, or as part of a larger continuum. Unwept feels to be foreplay alone in isolation. The conclusion is not so much event-driven as it is an information reveal of the true nature of the fantasy world.
The quality of the writing strongly suggests that the Nightbirds trilogy will be a strong edition to the fantasy genre. It may, however, end up being a tale that is best told completely, rather than piecemeal.