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Monday, July 9, 2007

"The Wanderer’s Tale" by David Bilsborough

Order “The Wanderer’s Tale" HERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

In fantasy circles there’s been some hype surrounding “The Wanderer’s Tale”, the debut novel from Malvern, England writer David Bilsborough. The problem with hype is that more often than not, the item in question fails to live up to expectations, and at least from the early reviews that I’ve seen, “The Wanderer’s Tale” seems to have fallen well short of its mark. Of course, I’m not one to make assumptions based on another person’s opinions, so I tried to keep an open mind when reading Mr. Bilsborough’s massive debut. Alas, the results were not that pretty…

Described as an “epic fantasy series in the very best tradition of Tolkien”, “The Wanderer’s Tale” – part one of a duology that will be concluded in "A Fire In the North" – is an old-school story about a band of misfits embarking on a quest north to Melhus through the land of Lindormyn – populated by many different races, religions, deities and other creatures – to prevent Drauglir, The Evil One, from being resurrected 500 years after he was supposedly slain. Along the way, the travelers get caught up in numerous (mis)adventures as they journey through strange lands and meet up with a menagerie of beasts – ogres, Leucrota, wolves, Huldre, Jaculus, Ganferd, Spriggans, Kobolds, Afanc, giants, etc. – both familiar & terrifying…

Based on the synopsis alone, comparisons to J.R.R. Tolkien are inevitable though there’s actually much more to “The Wanderer’s Tale” than just another Lord of the Rings clone. True, Tolkien was a major influence in Mr. Bilsborough’s debut from the main premise to the novel’s prose and the land of Lindormyn, which comes across as very Middle Earth. Yet, the author has cited various other influences in the book such as Dungeons & Dragons, the Silent Hill video game and the British television comedy The League of Gentlemen, all of which have been incorporated into “The Wanderer’s Tale” in some way. The end result is a novel that is either trying to make fun of or reinvent the traditional ‘quest’ fantasy.

This is where the book gets tricky, because I can’t decide what it’s trying to be. On the one hand, “The Wanderer’s Tale” is a largely stereotypical fantasy that features occasional moments where the author is trying hard to explore a different angle, such as the whole ‘good vs. evil’ scenario, what it means to be a hero, the concept of fate, the ramifications of killing, developing characters & plot in unexpected directions, and so forth. At other times, the book doesn’t seem to take itself seriously at all and reads more like some sort of bad slapstick comedy act. Whatever it is that Mr. Bilsborough is trying to accomplish, it doesn’t quite work and the main reason is the writing.

Basically, Mr. Bilsborough is an author who is biting off more than he can chew in his debut. Stylistically, I thought Mr. Bilsborough did okay in the descriptive department though he tries to be too sophisticated and clever for his own good. Pacing wise, “The Wanderer’s Tale” is an uneven read that is way too long and would benefit from some tightening up. Plotting is simplistic and it’s pretty easy to guess all of the book’s ‘surprises’. Atmospherically, the author tries to convey different moods representing horror, suspense, bravery, wonder, etc., but as a reader I was never fully convinced. Where the book really starts to go wrong however, is the characterization. Whether it was the cookie-cutter protagonists, their shallow developments, the infantile dialogue/musings, their ludicrous interactions with one another, the way that the third-person narratives jumped around haphazardly when there was more than one character involved, or the noticeable lack of any female personalities, the characterization was just substandard at best. Let’s just say that I’ve seen better character development in cheesy RPG videogames, which is not known as one of their strong points.

Of course, it’s not all bad. Take the world of Lindorymn for example. Sure, it’s very “Tolkienesque” as a whole, but there was a lot of love put into its creation, evidenced by its rich mythology, and there were actually some truly imaginative monsters, cultures and other concepts that were introduced, especially in the latter half of the book. Speaking of which, a little over halfway in, the novel starts following a single viewpoint for several chapters, which I thought were some of the better moments in the book and showed, albeit briefly, that Mr. Bilsborough could write a character as long as that was his main focus. There were other areas interspersed throughout the book that flashed promise as well, but truth be told, the negatives far outweigh the positives in “The Wanderer’s Tale”.

In the end, David Bilsborough’sThe Wanderer’s Tale” is a fantasy that aspired for great things, – even though I’m still not sure what that was – but ultimately failed due to poor writing & execution. Yet, I have to give the man some due. Supposedly the author spent twelve years writing “The Wanderer’s Tale”, after it was originally conceived as a poem at the age of 15. Add to that 130 rejections from agents and another 60 from publishers, and it’s hard not to be impressed with Mr. Bilsborough’s perseverance. Of course, it will probably take that same perseverance for readers just to finish “The Wanderer’s Tale” in the first place…

16 comments:

Patrick said...

Perseverance is required to finish this novel. . .

Lots of it!

Reanimated said...

I'm kinda glad you didn't enjoy it too much. The author sounded like a jackass in Pat's interview.

gavsstudio said...

I'm interested in some of the answers in Pat's interview especially 'Descriptive writing is my real passion.' It might be a passion but boy can you have too much.

I've just read Resistance by Owen Sheers, set in a valley, where not a lot happens, and there are pages of wonderful descriptions of the landscape.

TWT on the other hand is like following a person on speed - so much description that I needed to lie down after.

Patrick said...

Reanimated: It's kind of hard to enjoy this book too much!;-)

Pamela Milkweed said...

Quite honestly, I can't find a single review of this book that's positive. Do we have another Robert Newcomb in the making?

Robert said...

Yeah, Pat's interview with David was an interesting one all right. As far as being on the same level as Robert Newcombe, well, that's pretty low ;) So, I might give the author one more chance before I make my final decision, but it's not looking good...

P.S. I swear I saw a very positive review on the book a while back, but for the life of me, I can't find it now :(

gavsstudio said...

Here's one

Robert said...

Gav, thanks for the heads up. That's not the review I've seen before, but nevertheless it's an interesting viewpoint. I guess personal tastes do matter ;)

Anonymous said...

It's more Dungeons and Dragons-esque than Tolkienesque, I thought. I do not say this as a good thing.

Anonymous said...

i don't know why everyone hates this book, i loved it! the second one "a fire in the north" was definetly better though.

Anonymous said...

Hey, i have no idea what ur all being depressingly negative about, i loved the series and hoping that he comes up with more of the same liking, its cause ur all plopped up on expecting to find some crap like lord of the rings or something lol- i never read the series but it was too popular for its own good, anyway- loved the wanderers tale as well as a fire in the north.

jon said...

Bilbo's tale of wandering & fantasy might not have the same edge & bite as The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan, but it is well worth the read... sure, it doesn't have the literary detail as China or Harrison but it's format is flawless (the so-called "weakness" that many of you "critics" remark are just the talent of this writer's wit, given the characters 3D & that humour which, outside of George R.R. Martin's when-will-we-ever-get-another masterpiece, gives a sense of realness to the fantastic. It's a fun read. Any reader who has an extra few hours does not require "perseverance" to finish this novel; if so, then stick to Young Adult fiction. Or write a book yourself. At least this guy from Moel-Byrn (Malvern) has created, perhaps not the most original but when writing Fantasy most of the originality belongs to Tolkien, of course. Easily the most original modern fantasy is the Bas-Lag series by Miéville, but this Duology is well worth the few cups of coffee needed. I've 1/2 read far worse, and some of those books have won the Arthur C. Clarke Award (I'll leave her name unmentioned). Fantasy has a simple format, and Bilsborough has nailed it with a little bit of extra flavour. Too many critics, not enough writers. If you don't like it, whatever... some people think Iain M. Bank's masterpiece The Algebraist (most likely the greatest SciFi/Fantasy novel ever, Period) is nonsense. Fools! There's no need to rip apart this novel and feed it to your hearth unless you're desperate. And if you actually read the book, as opposed to skim-thru-w/-an-already-set-mind, you might see or find the Originality which is the treasure buried within this book. But, everyone has their own opinion, or course. I know this guy exists, but have no idea who you are therefore he is a tad more successful... for the moment & more than just 15 minutes. Like Moon & The Who, "bad publicity is better than none" but I'm sure David doesn't care whether you like his book(s) or not 'cause he knows plenty others do. I know I do. Gapp Lives!

Anonymous said...

Before reading these, I never looked at any reviews, and I have to say I am SHOCKED by how negative people are being. These two books are the very essence of whimsy and fantasy that I was looking for. THE BEST BOOKS I HAVE EVER READ. Please don't listen to all these people. Yes, there are amazing bouts of description that immerse you, and yes, they are written on a higher reading level with sever unexpected twists and subplots, but THEY ARE WORTH IT. His words brought laughs and tears, and I was completely enthralled with the story the entire time I was reading. I really hate to see poor reviews keep an amazing literary artist from being able to share his amazing talents with the world. It is a real shame. Please don't listen to these other reviews. Give the books a shot and form your own opinions.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the reviewer. It was a major task to finish this book. Character and plot development is uneven and extremely contradictory.Iam reading the second book " A Fire in the North" now, and it is not an improvement

Some Bloke said...

I actually enjoyed the book a lot. It wasn't completely my cup of tea since it was so long and so descriptive. But I think it was worth it.
I think this book has one of(if not the) most interesting relation to fantasy religions that I've ever stumbled across.
I recommend this book.

Anonymous said...

I loved it!!I.m a female so only guys did not bother me at all ;-)!!!!

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