At Hope's Edge

Author: Cairistiona

Nominator: Linda Hoyland

2009 Award Category: Genres: Drama: Aragorn - First Place

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Novel

Rating: Mature  ✧  Reason for Rating: Rated for battle scenes, angst and OC character death. Nothing is terribly graphic, but the themes of this story are mature in nature.

Summary: It is October, T.A. 3000, and the Dúnedain continue to dwindle, a scattered remnant held together by hope in their Chieftain. But what happens when the Chieftain’s own hope starts to falter? An exploration of tragedy, grief, injury and illness and its effects on "the most hardy of living Men".

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Reviewed by: obsidianj  ✧  Score: 10

This is a beautiful, if harrowing and sometimes depressing story. But it never gets to the point that it is too much. The dark, hopeless spiral of despair is balanced by some lighthearted banter, and a strong show of loyalty and friendship between Aragorn and his men and Aragorn and his elven family. The series of events that leads to Aragorn being at the edge of hope is quite haunting and relentless. It is a wonder that he could hold on as long as he did. I love the way the relationship between Aragorn and Halbarad is portrayed. Halbarad is a true friend. He respects Aragorn, but is not intimidated that Aragorn is his chieftain. This description of their friendship made Aragorn's nightmares truly harrowing. Both characters shine in this tale and Aragorn comes to life with all his strengths and weaknesses. The other relationship I loved in this story is the father/son dynamics between Elrond and Aragorn. It is another burden taken off Aragon's shoulders to come to a better understanding with Elrond. The description of the workings of the Black Breath made me shudder and is exactly how I pictured it working. Having it spelled out with examples makes it even worse. The Nazgul truly twist everything that is good into some evil parody.

Reviewed by: Vilwarin  ✧  Score: 10

Hi Cairistiona, Greetings from another Aragorn fan. In my opinion you created a masterpiece here. You slowly developed Aragorn's gradually sinking into despair, a mood that starts with the death of some of his people through sickness where he laboured despite the danger to his own health, the death of the youngest member of his patrol, and reaches its peak with the attack on and destruction of two of the Dúnedain settlements, is intensified by his contact with the Black Breath. I have seen quite a few stories over the years that deal with Aragorn's contact with the Black Breath, an angsty piece of canon that is well worth an exploration. But I think that your version is more credible than him being captured by a Nazgûl. I thought a while about his reaction to the Black Breath in comparison to Frodo's and came to the conclusion that the Black Breath alone, though able to do a lot of damage on its own, feeds on the mental and physical state someone is in, which offers an explanation for Aragorn's state in your story as well as for the people who suffer from it in the White City, who have lived under Mordor's shadow for many years. But on the other hand you show an Aragorn that deeply cares for his people and who takes the death and pain that the Dúnedain suffer really to heart. He is not only a lord, but one of them who cares for the individual and will do everything in his power to help, even at a great cost. You show in this story the qualities Aragorn needs as a leader as well as the stubbornness that endangers himself. "If by my life or death I can save you, I will," comes to mind here.

Reviewed by: Dreamdeer  ✧  Score: 10

I have no idea why the review that I wrote a month ago vanished, but here is my second try: I had previously called a different story my favorite so far, then read this one and had to revise my opinion. I almost passed it up because of passive voice in the introduction (which does not continue through the rest of the story) yet it intrigued me so much that I had to continue on, and soon the story had me hooked--absolutely, irresistably! I have come to the conclusion that Cairistiona's greatest strength is balance. She does a remarkable job of balancing angst with humor, fear with warmth, despair with love. She does not pull punches, but neither does she wallow in morbidity, again showing her deft touch in maintaining precisely the right balance to tell the optimum story. Her characters behave both believably and originally. Everything makes sense--that is exactly how it would have happened. And the reader comes to care, very deeply, about what will befall these remarkable people that she writes about. Her settings and situations abound in detail. The writer Poul Anderson once advised that each scene should touch upon at least three senses, and this Cairistiona has instinctively done. The reader always has a clear sense of place, time, and circumstances, making the invented landscale viable enough to believably sustain the characters in the reader's imagination. In the milieu of the contest, one tends to try and cram in as many stories as possible in as short a time as possible, and maybe even skimp on the longer works. It says something about Cairistiona's craft that I went back and read this novel twice. I am grateful to the Middle Earth Fanfiction Awards for introducing me to this author.

Reviewed by: Thundera Tiger  ✧  Score: 10

Fantastic epic! I'm trying to decide where to even begin in reviewing this story. I think I'll start by talking about balance, because in order for a novel like this to work, the story has to have balance. And balance it had in spades. At its heart, this is an examination of Aragorn under duress, a drama in the truest sense of the word. And drama's are painfully difficult to write, especially when drawn out past a few chapters or more. Too much angst, and the whole thing becomes a maudlin wallow. Cairistiona balances all the angst with perfectly timed and executed action sequences as well as characters quirky enough to add dry wit and humor that works as a perfect counterpoint to the stark battle being waged in Aragorn's heart. As for Aragorn himself, it was easy to see how and why he began losing hope, and after encountering the Nazgul, his doubts were magnified tenfold. Props for a brilliant portrayal of the Black Breath! And props for the portrayals of all the other characters. Denland's rendition of Halbarad's heroics after the first Nazgul encounter were particularly amusing, as was Halbarad's response to the whole thing. He certainly earned his dour-handed moniker. He is completely undaunted throughout, but he has a dry sense of humor that makes him an approachable and warm character. Then there are the Rivendell natives. Glorfindel's battle against the Nazgul was everything I could have hoped for, as was his post-battle comment of: ["My apologies for the noise."] His passing concern for Aragorn (and I'll lump Elladan and Elrohir in with him in this) was spot-on. They were certainly aware that something was amiss, but they didn't have the time to spare in order to find out what. Duty is a harsh master, and they were all its slaves. Finally, I applaud this story for setting up Aragorn's motivations to the point where his counsel to Gandalf (whose inclusion I loved) regarding what to do about the search for the One Ring were understandable. All in all, a complex, all-encompassing story that looks at all aspects of Aragorn's life, from One Ring to Arwen, and draws them out into a fantastic drama-action epic. Thank you for such an enjoyable read!

Reviewed by: Inzilbeth  ✧  Score: 10

‘At Hope’s Edge’ is surely one of the best stories to have appeared this year. Cairistiona is an outstanding writer and she has poured all her considerable skill into this fabulous story. As the title suggests, she drives Aragorn to the very brink of his forbearance and explores what this means for him personally and for the Dunedain in general. Set in the years immediately prior to the discovery of the Ring, which must surely have been times when it was especially difficult for Aragorn to maintain his hope, the timing of this drama is perfect. Two decades had passed since Elrond placed his condition upon Aragorn’s marriage to Arwen yet he is no nearer achieving his goal. The sudden appearance of a Nazgul in Eriador, as well as bands of orcs which appear to be systematically targeting his people, not surprisingly, presents a major challenge for Aragorn and his too few fellow rangers. The lingering effects of his own personal encounter with the Wraith, alone, would be enough to drive a lesser man to despair and Aragorn needs the help of both Elrond and Gandalf to finally put the experience behind him. Cairistiona’s story is a dark one. The tension builds steadily but she blends humour with terror superbly so that the reader is never swamped by the ever worsening situation. The OC’s are immediately believable and the whole story is so well crafted that it is possible to completely suspend reality and become totally immersed in the drama, something which is undoubtedly the hallmark of the very best fan fiction.

Reviewed by: Mirach  ✧  Score: 10

I think that the category “drama” is too weak for this story. It is more then drama, it is one heartwrenching tale showing real hardship and despair, that leads the reader through the darkest time of the Dúnedain and their chieftain, to end in a promise of hope. The title itself tells much about the story – what events can drive Aragorn, whose very essence is Estel – hope, to the hope’s edge? Responsibility, grief, bearing the many sorrows of his people on his shoulders is only the beginning of the story. It is a state of mind that seems really close to that edge, but with injury and Black Breath it takes all of Elrond’s skills to lead his son back from the dark country of despair and nightmares caused by the Nazgul and his own sorrows. There is much pain in the story, but a great part of it is emotional pain, which is described in such a way, that the reader feels drawn into the story. The breathtaking realism of the story gives Aragorn’s men and companion rangers including Halbarad and several original characters their own original personality, but not only that. It can be felt through the entire story in the stunning descriptions and detail of every scene, not only the battle scenes, but also the slower actions and dream images, everything feels like being right in the middle of the story. Thank you, Cairistiona!

Reviewed by: Linda Hoyland  ✧  Score: 9

This story is highly recommended for all lovers of stories about Aragorn in peril and is one of my favourite stories of the year.I could hardly wait for each new instalment to be posted about my favourite Ranger in peril! However,this is far more than just an angsty tale as Aragorn's devotion to his people shines through every page,as does his love for Arwen, care for his men and deep friendship with Halbarad. I think the scenes where Halbarad tries to care for his injured friend ,but is painfully aware of his limits are amongst my favourites. It is rare that one reads about the usually strong and confident Aragorn driven to the edge, but this story portrays a very plausible scenario in which he might have been. My only minor criticism is occasionally the language is too modern, especially by the use of the Phase[I'm fine] which jars me back to the twenty first century. Such minor quibbles apart,though, I love this story and its deep and thoughtful portrayal of Aragorn and his relations with those around him and the often terrible situations that the Chieftain of the Dunedain must deal with. A must read story for all Aragorn fans.

Reviewed by: stefaniab  ✧  Score: 9

"At Hope's Edge" is a fine example of the angst/hurt/comfort genre, that reads just as well as an adventure story. Here Aragorn in his Strider days leads the roaming bands of Dunedain Rangers about the desolute lands of Eriador in pursuit of orc bands. The mayhem and disaster that follows them seems unrelenting. Author Cairistiona resists providing overly gruesome details while nonetheless serving up great action, such as Aragorn's battle with a Nazgul. Unfortunately, Aragorn sustains grievous wounds, including the Black Breath, which he stubbornly refuses to give sufficient healing time. As a result, poor Strider sets himself up for the dramatic hurt/comfort scenes that provide the finale for the story. The most outstanding feature of this story is the excellent characterization Cairistiona provides for Aragorn. She excells at letting us into Aragorn's inner most thoughts, particularly in the later chapters and appendices. Fans of the Northern Dunedain should also love the humorous bantering between Aragorn and Halbarad. All in all, this is a fun novel that is worth your time and interest.

Reviewed by: Silivren Tinu  ✧  Score: 8

There is a moment during Strider's conversation with the hobbits in Bree when it appears as if Aragorn does not only know all about the Nazgul, but also seems to have encountered them before. This is the perfect story for everyone who, like me, always wanted to know when such an encounter might have taken place, and what might have happened back then that Aragorn would still sound so shaken when remembering it. Some of the many things I loved about this story were the characterizations of Halbarad (whose loyalty, courage, and disrespectfulness I thoroughly enjoyed), Gandalf (who was just his irascible, quick-witted, and warm-hearted book-self), and the Nazgul (who appears just as sinister and terrifying in this story as in the books), as well as the sensitive way the author portrayed the father-son relationship between Aragorn and Elrond, the unforgettable Glorfindel-scenes, and the likeable OCs in this story. All in all, this story is a great read and fills one of the gaps Tolkien has left to our imagination in a very satisfying way.

Reviewed by: Larner  ✧  Score: 6

He may have been among the hardiest of living men, but even Aragorn son of Arathorn is not immune to the effects of the Black Breath, and cannot hold off its weakness forever. This tale of an encounter with one of the Nazgul come northward into Eriador and leading troops of orcs against whatever villages within the wilds they can come across is well told and brilliantly fleshed out. We see his caring for his people, his dogged sense of responsibility, and his remarkable persistence in fighting the symptoms as long as he can, to the point others must recognize what is happening in spite of him! A most realistic-feeling tale, superbly told. Definitely a story I find I can relate to! And I rejoice that Cairistiona has joined us in the world of Tolkien fanfiction!

Reviewed by: curiouswombat  ✧  Score: 6

Oh my goodness - another favourite story I had somehow almost missed reviewing! Cairistiona writes of Aragorn's time amongst his own people so well. All of the characters are so beautifully and sympathetically drawn. Her stories never disappoint. This story, in which Aragorn has such painful doubts about his own abilities, without truly realising just why he is so beset with fears and dreads, is almost painful reading at times, in the best possible way. When it becomes clear that what he is perceiving as his own weakness is seen by others as a measure of his strength is a wonderful insight into the character of the man. His reconciliation with Elrond, from whom he has felt himself estranged, is a powerful closing to a powerful story.

Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon  ✧  Score: 5

Cairistiona pens a complex story whose heart is the question of what happens when the man named for Hope loses his own. I really like the way she shows Aragorn's considerable strength slowly eroding as his people dwindle and fall under multiple blows, and he is wounded and subjected to the Nazgul's Black Breath. Cairistiona shows that while Aragorn is a great hero, he is not Superman and even he must grapple with exhaustion and sorrow. There are nice moments of joy and pathos and occasional humor, too. A great read for admirers of angst, intense storytelling, and Aragorn.

Reviewed by: Dreamflower  ✧  Score: 5

This tale set some years before the opening of LotR deals with some of Aragorn's life as Chieftain of the Rangers, and most especially with the hinted-at-in-canon encounter with the Ringwraiths. When he is injured and inflicted with the Black Breath during a series of brutal attacks on Dunedain settlements, it is up to Halbarad and his fellow Rangers to make sure that their Chief is taken care of. Meanwhile, Aragorn must deal alone with the spiritual malaise caused by the encounter. A well-plotted and absorbing read, I love the themes of friendship and sacrifice it explores!

Reviewed by: Marethiel  ✧  Score: 5

This is a brilliant tour de force of character development! As always, this author's command of characterization of Aragorn, Halbarad, Gandalf, Elrond, and all others in her sphere creates a glimpse of the events immediately before the FoTR begins. Aragorn's suffering, Halbarad's stalwart support, Elrond's tenderness and the wonderfully gruff avuncular characterization of Gandalf are superb. Her story-weaving creates believable "fill ins," events that both resonate emotionally with the characters and bridge gaps Tolkein left to the imagination. As always, a wonderful read.

Reviewed by: Mysterious Jedi  ✧  Score: 4

This is a very well written story. It is very angsty, which I like. I especially enjoyed the deep friendship between Aragorn and Halbarad, and the father/son relationship between Elrond and Aragorn. Halbarad does a good job of taking care of his chieftain and friend, and it is good to see that the Arwen situation has not totally destroyed Aragorn and Elrond's relationship. I enjoyed Glorfindel and the OCs too! They were all good.

Reviewed by: Elena Tiriel  ✧  Score: 1

A well-wrought but heart-wrenching story!