Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Silver Serpent by David Debord

In a land where magic is dying and nations teeter on the verge of war, three young people are preoccupied with their own concerns. Shanis is a tomboy who wants to be a soldier. Hierm is an unappreciated second son who wants to escape his father's expectations. Bookish Oskar wants to see the places he's heard of in stories and read about in books. They all believe their dreams have come true, but they soon learn that a greater evil lurks beyond the mountains, and they find themselves on a quest for the Silver Serpent- a mysterious talisman that can save their land.

There is plenty to like in this story: plot twists abound, the lands and cultures are intriguing, and Debord adds a layer of mystery to the story. The characters are searching for the Silver Serpent, but they don't know what it is what it does, much less where to find it. The sai-kurs, an order of sorcerers/ambassadors operate with their own agenda that is not revealed in this, the first volume of The Absent Gods.

The plot focuses on two competing factions who are on identical quests, yet completely unaware of one another. The best part of this story, though, is the characters. No character is totally good or bad. The characters who annoy you at first tend to grow on you, and the ones that seem great at the outset have their own warts. All of the main characters grow and change over the course of the book. The most memorable is Prince Lerryn, a truly complex "flawed hero."

Debord offers hints of an expansive world replete with a variety of unique cultures and political motivations, but we are introduced to only a small corner of this world. Magic exists, but plays a minimal role, as we are told that magic has been dwindling for some time. Many colorful secondary characters are introduced, but the reader gets the feeling that this first book in the series only scratches the surface of what promises to be an expansive series. Debord has cited Robert Jordan as his biggest influence, which makes one wonder if he will spin his web as wide as Jordan did, as the groundwork appears to have been lain for an epic of great breadth if he chooses to go in that direction.

The negative for many will be the fact that this story is a "quest" story like so many that have come before. The characters begin in the small, rural village and embark upon a journey to find the talisman that will save the world. Of course, the story is unique, but if you don't like the traditional quest story, you'll have a hard time enjoying this book.

The Silver Serpent is a gripping epic fantasy in the tradition of Robert Jordan, Raymond Feist and David Eddings. If you are looking for a fresh, new voice in the traditional form, I highly recommend this first installment of what promises to be a memorable series.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself is Joe Abercrombie's debut novel, and a solid first effort. Reminiscent of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, the book is filled with gritty, believable characters, and a foundation of what promises to be a broad, well-developed plot.

The plot in this installment is pretty basic: the old empire is crumbling, with "barbaric" peoples knocking at the door, but most are unaware of a greater, more sinister threat that looms.

The story is character-driven. Glotka the Inquisitor, a scarred veteran whose injuries and disfigurements make him look like an old man, is a complex character with a sharp, biting intellect. He is the most intriguing of a varied cast of characters. The dialog is particularly well-crafted, and Abercrombie draws the reader in so deeply that you find yourself chuckling or sometimes laughing aloud at the one-liners and the give-and-take between the characters.

The only areas of relative weakness for me were the anachronistic profanities (modern profanity in a fantasy novel tends to jolt me out of the reading experience) and the lack of emphasis on plot. The plotting issue is, of course, a stylistic choice. Fans of Steven Erickson and Scott Lynch will likely enjoy Abercrombie's style, while readers of mainstays like Raymond Feist and David Eddings will find the the plot sorely lacking.

The Blade Itself is an entertaining debut by a talented new author. Pick it up if you are looking for a new fantasy author who is not encumbered by the traditions of the genre.