Math is a world of cosmic connections. The Fylking, an immortal race of warriors from the Otherworld, use a series of gates to travel to and from their outposts in this realm. The kingdoms of Math, specifically Dyrregin, serve as garrisons in the Fylking’s interdimensional war with their ancient enemy, the Niflsekt. Humans are generally oblivious to the larger struggle into which their world has been involved. The Wardens, a guild of solitary wanderers, are the exception. Long ago, the Fylking made a pact with the original Wardens, in which the Wardens swore to maintain the portal gates for the Fylking’s travel and to serve as their representatives to the rest of humanity.
Both the Fylking and the Wardens are viewed with a mixture of suspicion and fearful respect…on the relatively few times the people of Math remember them at all. Arcmael, Warden of Dyrregin, is the first to notice the beginning of strange happenings, but his ability to comprehend coming events is threatened by his personal struggles. Melisande, a woman of supernatural abilities, also becomes privy to a widening plot, but her innate “pattern sense” may not be enough to protect her from the attention of gods.
Finally, Othin, Melisande’s lover and a skilled warrior, is estranged from his love at the very moment he discovers her peril. More is at work behind the scenes than the petty power struggles between nations. Arcmael, Melisande, and Othin must unravel the mystery behind the schemes before all of Math falls to a war that it has forgotten existed…
Outpost is a fantasy novel that manifests as part adventure, part mystery, and part romance, with a dash of horror thrown in. The cultures, religions, superstitions, etc. are all based on Nordic mythology and Scandinavian traditions, which provides an interesting and recognizable flavor to the plot.
The strongest aspect of Outpost is unquestionably its writing. The prose is polished and knowledgeable – a trait that immediately sets this book apart from the majority of self-published works. McKinstry’s excellent description is both fluid and elegantly simple, and it paints an effective picture of settings, events, and characters. Suspenseful scenes are suitably stressful, utilizing terse prose that provides for intense, hair-raising experiences.
The character-building techniques used are effective, and while some characters are easier to identify with than others, all are deep and ultimately relatable. In addition, the world and concepts McKinstry has created are fully realized, distinct, and gripping.
There are a few issues, most of them fairly minimal in their overall impact. Expository passages to fill in historical events are a bit heavy-handed, though not overtly distracting. McKinstry also resorts to a deus ex machina or two, but Tolkien indulged in that particular vice on occasion as well. Who am I to begrudge an author the occasional literary escape hole? The book’s cover could also be a bit more eye-catching, but, in a strange way, it manages to mirror the indistinct, ethereal feel of many of Outpost’s characters and concepts.
All in all, Mckinstry’s book proves to be one of the best independently published fantasy novels of the past year. Tense, gritty, exciting, and romantic, Outpost is a tale avid fantasy readers won’t want to miss.