“The first casualty in war is often the truth”
The lord of the rings while a complex book with rich history and characters that have echoed through the years is at it’s a heart a rather simple tale of good against evil. This sits at odds with the world around us and is perhaps why for some it is so treasured, for others though this has lead to it being dismissed as little more than a children’s story but for one this was the foundation for another tale altogether.
Released in 1999 by Kirill Eskov ‘The Last Ringebearer’ picks up the story of ‘the war of the ring’ shortly after the battle of Pelennor fields, though not before setting a few things “right” for the reader. You see this book carries the assumption that The Lord of the Rings was written by the Elves and is thus extremely biased in fact clouding the whole story in propaganda and lies. This, “accurate” telling favours the Mordor Orcs, who it turns out were no more different from the Gondorians and Rohirrim as you are from a Chinese person or African. Indeed once you remove this racism it turns out that the only thing that split them from the other human cultures was their leaning toward science over magic.
Now straight away one of the misconceptions that several people have going into this book will hopefully be put to rest as it is something I feel must be stressed before carrying on with the review. When people say that this is a book told for the point of view of the orcs people picture Legolas with a sinister goatee or a Gandalf who kicks puppies and while it is clear going forth that the Mordorians are the true “good” side of the conflict the whole thing is put forth in a logical and sound way which gives the air of realism and balance to the whole proceedings. For instance those that know about the war of the ring know that one of the first major strikes by the enemy was extending their forces into Osgiliath starting a long game of tug of war between the two powers. For those that haven’t read the Middle Earth history books will perhaps be aware of this as shown in the Two Towers extended edition flashback sequence with Sean Bean, where he rallies his troops, chats with his brother and is promptly dispatched to Rivendell. In Eskov’s account this still happened but is fleshed out to reveal that for several reasons that I won’t go into here Mordor relies on trade in order to feed its people and that as more and more of its caravans were attacked by raiders it had to extend outward to safe guard their passage home. One of the first and most crucial of these points being of course Osgiliath. Minas Tiriths reaction is of course justified but now the whole proceeding is given a complex air of understanding, something that flows throughout the story.
For anyone not familiar with the war of the ring they may have just read that last paragraph and be wondering if this is the book for them. Now assuming that you have never touched upon Tolkien’s works before then the short answer is no, though I don’t think you would struggle too much to follow the tale. Instead you would simply be left feeling like you are missing out on over half a story, even I wish for Eskov to have delved more into the tale of the “one ring’s” flight from the primitive little shire in the far north with his own interpretations of character such as Gandalf and Aragorn. Yet for anyone enjoying the current fascination with gritty fantasy along the lines of Game of Thrones will be right at home. For everyone else, even those who only came to Tolkien by way of Peter Jacksons trilogy will be fine in my opinion with details and names.
The story itself focuses on a field medic/ doctor Haladin who is tasked with stopping the elvish conquest of middle earth. Taking the mark of Nazgul he becomes “the last ringbearer”, a title I am assured is far wittier in the original Russian, and must journey across Middle Earth meeting many familiar faces and assembling allies to help him on a mission that will make taking a ring to mount doom seem like a light stumble home from ‘The Green Dragon’.
However his is not the only story we will hear about. Often times that story will cut away to flesh out some of the other characters around him and this is for the most part a good and enjoyable thing, especially for me concerning Faramir and his new duties and recent wife. However my main bone of contention with the book comes in the form of Tangorn a Gondorian noble who joins the quest fairly early on. Eventually he must part ways with Haladin and journey south to a fantasy version of what I at least picture as Venice. This helped to flesh out the world of Middle Earth and was fun at implying the limited scope imposed on the retelling of the war of the ring found in Lord of the Rings by Tolkien which was a northern European novel through and through. My complaint is that while this is relevant to the plot it does seem to fill up the middle third of the book all by itself and leaves you wondering if we are ever going to get back to the quest directly. Now I’m not sure if this was simply the author enjoying what he had written and so shoving it in and being unwilling to trim it back or if this was part of the point to emphasise the clean cut nature of the quest imagined by Tolkien. I suppose a case could be made for either but as much as I enjoyed the spies and sleuthing on gondoliers and in whore houses I think I would have still preferred getting back to the action a bit sooner.
That is the negative and now the good and I think the best thing to be said is that it sticks to the message laid out by Tolkien just picking up the slack of the other side. It’s no hidden thing that one of the key themes of Tolkien’s work was his rallying against the rise of machines and the lack of respect for nature, perhaps best shown in Sauroman’s raising of an army and stripping out a forest to do so. But here the argument for the march of technology is pitted against the old ways with calls for education and medicine, science and free thinking.
Perhaps the hardest part will be the readers own quest to find the book as it currently does not officially exist in the English Language. While the book has been sold in many counties around the world it is currently not been translated into English by any publishing house for fear of action by the Tolkien Estate which means that anybody wanting to read it will have to rely on copies found around the internet. As such I must leave you to find it yourself for fear of a telling off by the internet police and definatly could not tell you that it is available to download from HERE.