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Monday, April 4, 2011

“The Unremembered” by Peter Orullian (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Peter Orullian Website
Order “The UnrememberedHERE
Read Excerpts HERE + HERE
Read the “Sacrifice of the First SheasonShort Story HERE
Read “The Great Defense of LayosahShort Story HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Peter Orullian is a graduate of the University of Utah with a BA in English. He has worked in marketing at Xbox for nearly a decade, most recently leading the Music and Entertainment marketing strategy for Xbox LIVE. His musical endeavors include performing on the Keep It True tour for both Heir Apparent and Fifth Angel, and creating albums with Inner Resonance and Continuum. As a writer, Peter has published several short stories including “Sacrifice of the First Sheason” and “The Great Defense of Layosah” on The Unremembered is his first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Rumors have beset the eastlands of Aeshau Vaal. Some people flee toward the cities for refuge. One regent, to answer these unseen threats, is set to recall the Convocation of Seats—something that hasn't been done for ages. But one man doesn't believe, and would use the fear of nations to advance the power of his dangerous League of Civility.

For Braethen, an author's son, it will mean the sudden chance to turn his lifelong desire of entering the Sodality into a reality. But being a Sodalist is not the romantic dream he's read about in his long years of study. As a sworn protector to the feared Order of Sheason, he must be prepared to give more than his life, and to take up a mythical weapon before his hands are even accustomed to steel.

For Wendra, raped and now heavy with child, it will mean learning the reality of a trade that travels the highways across the nations of man, even a trade in human lives. She'll take responsibility for a pageant-wagon boy, whose street-theater is considered seditious; and find through protecting him that her ability to make song with her voice carries a great power, but one that may flow darkly.

For Tahn, it will mean finding answers to a lost childhood. Words he feels compelled to speak every time he draws his bow may finally be understood, but the revelation it brings may be better left unremembered. And though it will also introduce him to a beautiful woman of the legendary Far, the nature of their separate and very different lives will force dreadful choices upon them.

These three, and others—including an exile, whose sentence is to care for orphans and foundlings in the middle of a wasteland, and a Sheason whose uncompromising, yet best intentions are destroying his own order—will fight the past even as they face a dark future.

Because the threats are more than rumor...

FORMAT/INFO: The Unremembered is 672 pages long divided over a Prologue and eighty titled chapters. Also includes a detailed map, which is available online HERE. Narration is in the third person via Tahn Junell; his sister Wendra; Tahn’s friend Sutter Te Polis; Braethen Posian; Helaina Storalaith, the regent of Recityv; the Sheason Vendanj; the Far Mira; a highwayman; and the sun-worn outcast. The Unremembered is the first volume in The Vault of Heaven fantasy series. April 12, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of The Unremembered via Tor. Cover art is provided by Kekai Kotaki.

ANALYSIS: Tor is one of my favorite publishers, especially when it comes to fantasy. Because of Tor, I’ve been introduced to a number of my favorite authors in the genre including Robert Jordan, Jacqueline Carey, Glen Cook, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., David Farland, Elizabeth Haydon and newcomers in Brandon Sanderson, Daniel Abraham and Ken Scholes. As a result, Tor has my full attention whenever the publisher introduces a new fantasy author. Their latest discovery is Peter Orullian.

Peter Orullian is the author of The Unremembered, a traditional epic fantasy novel that immediately brought to mind Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings because of the familiar quest storyline and the book’s classic battle between good and evil. Because of philosophical musings, thought-provoking moral complexity, and the overall serious tone of the book, I was also reminded of The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind and Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant Chronicles. Unfortunately, thoughts of inferior fantasy works like The Wanderer’s Tale by David Bilsborough, Russell Kirkpatrick’s Across the Face of the World and Goodkind’s more recent novels also popped into my head as I was reading The Unremembered. This disparity in comparisons represents the novel as a whole, since nearly every aspect of The Unremembered is marked by elements both positive and negative.

Take for example Peter Orullian’s writing which is confident and skilled, led by the author’s facility for descriptive prose and heroic storytelling:

Before our fires, before the sun, the Great Fathers held their Council of Creation at the Tabernacle of the Sky. They called forth the light, the land, and filled both with life. Every living thing was intended to grow in stature and harmony with the elements around it.

And this all was done for the good of everyone. But in their wisdom, the First Ones knew there must be counterbalance, a way for their creation to be tested and challenged. Else no learning or change could occur, and their council would bring to naught their intention: that we should become great ourselves. So, one of the fathers was given the charge to create all that would be ill to the land and its life. To one was given the task of creating sorrow and strife.

For a time, the council served with great joy. Sound and song filled the land with vibrance, attending the creation of every living thing. But the One grew delighted in his charge to test men by affliction. He set upon the lands pricks and briars of every sort, creatures without conscience, to harrow the creations of light. Thousands of years did the council serve, the One becoming dark in his soul, consumed with his task.

The Great Fathers knew the One must be bound, else men were lost. So, together they sealed him to the earth that he so wanted to destroy, creating for him a sepulchre in the farthest corner of the world to live an eternity in his rancor. And thus the High Season came to an end; the time of creation, of newness at the hands of the Noble Ones, passed from memory.

But by the time the One had been bound, balance had been undone. The land had gone awry of the Great Father’s plan from the foundation, and they could not hope to salvage their vision. So they abandoned their work, sealing those given to the Quiet within the Bourne and leaving the unfinished world to mete out its own fate. And many scornful races there were who had, indeed, given their very souls to Quietus’s hateful designs. So, into the land the First Ones introduced the Sheason, an order ordained to establishing peace and equanimity, set apart to guide the other races throughout the rest of Aeshau Vaal.

At the same time though, Peter Orullian’s writing is marred by dialogue that occasionally feels forced and the author’s penchant for verbosity, especially when describing architecture or the landscape, or when expressing the thoughts and reflections of a character.

World-building meanwhile, is rich and immersive, highlighted by the obvious amount of time and love that was put into creating Aeshau Vaal. Sadly, while the world of The Unremembered may be full of detailed history, mythology, culture and geography, it is sorely lacking in the creativity department. The magical Veil which imprisons the evil Quietus and his followers in the Bourne; Sheason who render the Will at the cost of their own Forda I’Forza—energy and matter, or body and soul; Sodalists, sworn protectors of the Sheason; Bar’dyn, Velle and the Draethemorte; the League of Civility, an order dedicated to rooting out “arcane beliefs and practices”; the Sedagin warrior race; the magical Eternal Grove which stands at the edge of creation; songs used to both create and destroy . . . these and many other concepts introduced in The Unremembered could be replaced by ideas found in other fantasy novels—The Forbidding, Shai’tan, Trollocs, Myrddraal/Nazgûl, Warders, Singers/Spellsongs, etc.—and readers would hardly be able to tell the difference. That’s how unoriginal Aeshau Vaal is. Granted, there are exceptions like the Far—people “blessed with quickness in the body”, but whose lives end naturally at the end of eighteen cycles, the age of accountability—the Lesher Roon race, and the Undying Vow: “to bind husband and wife together for all time, to eternally sanction their union and ensure their happiness beyond the dust.” I also found the idea of a world abandoned by its creators intriguing, but for the most part, Aeshau Vaal is a fantasy world that will be instantly recognizable to anyone remotely familiar with the genre.

The same can also be said for the story, which is basically a very long and familiar quest, with the novel starting off in a small and unassuming town called the Hollows, and eventually ending at their destination at the Heights of Restoration. During this journey, the party travels to many interesting places—Widow’s Village, Qum’rahm’se Library, Stonemount, Recityv, the Scarred Lands, Naltus Far, Saeculorum Mountains, Rudierd Tillinghast—and end up dealing with numerous problems like the party becoming separated and overcoming obstacles that test their resolve, all while being constantly pursued by Quietgiven. There are a few subplots that help break up the story’s familiarity including Recityv politics, a highwayman who specializes in slave trade, and the sun-worn exile sentenced to care for orphans, but only a few short chapters are dedicated to the regent of Recityv, the highwayman disappears altogether about two-thirds of the way through the novel, and the outcast becomes less interesting once he joins the rest of the party. To make matters worse, the story’s pacing is hindered by frequent info-dumping, bloated descriptions, and a large amount of philosophizing/thoughtful ruminations on the part of the characters. As a result, not only is the plot in The Unremembered unoriginal and predictable, it’s also lengthy, slow-moving, and downright boring at times. It’s not all negative though. There are some truly exciting moments in the book, especially when the party gets separated and embark on different adventures, while compelling reading can be found in the subplot involving Tahn and the Court of Judicature, and the re-enactment of the outcast’s crime.

Like the plot, the characters in The Unremembered are stereotypical of the genre, with Tahn Junell a prime example. Tahn is essentially the ‘chosen one’, a youth not yet fully come of age, haunted by mysteries like his forgotten past—cannot remember anything before his tenth cycle—the hammer-shaped scar on his hand, his dreams of a faceless man, the voice he sometimes hears when viewing the sunrise, and the words he is compelled to speak every time he draws his bow: “I pull with the strength of my arms, but release as the Will allows.” The other main characters do not fare much better. Sutter is a root-digger who yearns for adventure, while providing comic relief; Braethen Posian is a lifelong scholar who finally gets to pursue his dream of Sodality—a life he has only read about in books; Tahn’s sister Wendra is haunted by the recent loss of her child and possesses a hidden gift; Vendanj is the hardened warrior/sorcerer, full of secrets and regrets; and Mira is Tahn’s romantic interest, although she also faces a terrible dilemma because of her Far heritage. Apart from being archetypal, Peter Orullian’s characters also suffer from paper-thin personalities which makes them difficult to care about, shallow character development, and unconvincing relationships—Tahn and Wendra, Tahn and Mira, Mira and Vendanj, Vendanj and Braethen, Sutter’s feelings for Wendra, etc.—which dampens some of the novel’s more interesting drama. On the plus side, the internal conflicts and themes—morality, rape, loss, abandonment, guilt, anger, disappointment, friendship, accountability—Peter Orullian’s characters have to deal with in the book are deep, thought-provoking and compelling.

Minor narratives include Helaina Storalaith, the highwayman Jastail J’Vache, and Grant, the sun-weathered exile, while the supporting cast features some interesting characters I hope return for the sequels like the ten-year-old boy Penit; Col’Wrent, the Lul’Masi Inveterae—the unredeemed; Edholm Restultan, the scrivener of Qum’rahm’se Library; the Ta’Opin Seanbea; the prisoner Rolen; and Belamae, the Maesteri of Descant Cathedral. Out of all of the characters in the book, Wendra is surprisingly the most fascinating. Because of her damaged relationship with Tahn and the unique ability she possesses, Wendra is a key factor in determining mankind’s success or failure in future volumes. Other characters to watch include Sutter with his unwanted ability to see the untabernacled, and Mira because of the consequences she faces due to the choices she made in The Unremembered.

CONCLUSION: Many of the authors Tor has introduced over the years have gone on to become mainstays of the genre, while others are exciting new voices. Unfortunately, the verdict on Peter Orullian is still pending. While the author shows tremendous potential in The Unremembered—specifically a confident writing style highlighted by rich prose, comprehensive world-building, characters who realistically struggle internally, and an obvious passion for the genre—the novel’s overwhelming use of fantasy tropes and conventions is a major drawback. As a result, much of the book’s positive moments are canceled out by negative ones, culminating in a debut that is neither great nor terrible, but instead falls somewhere in between. Still, if Peter Orullian can build on his strengths, while tightening up his writing and making a more concerted effort at forging his own identity, then the author could eventually become a force to reckon with...


Sarah (Bookworm Blues) said...

I am going to post my review for this one sometime this week, but I agree with your analysis of it. There wasn't enough "new" here, and that disappointed me.

Robert said...

Thanks for the heads up Sarah! I look forward to reading your review of the book. I'm also curious to see what other people think of the novel...

Malazan said...

@ Sarah
what "new" were u expecting?in fantasy ? LOL


i have this on pre-order,thanks for the review.

Richard R. said...

Did I miss is or did you not specify if this is a stand-alone or the beginning of a series?

The Reader said...

Hi Richard

The Unremembered is the first volume of the Vault of Heaven series. The series currently is slated to be at 3 books but I think if it is well received there could be more to follow.


Robert said...

Malazan, I think you might see what Sarah is talking about after you read the book...

Richard, I usually specify whether a novel is self-contained or part of a series in the 'FORMAT/INFO' section of the review...

Bushleague Critic said...

"Richard, I usually specify whether a novel is self-contained or part of a series in the 'FORMAT/INFO' section of the review..."

But books can be both self-contained AND part of a series. Your information isn't enough. I think what many readers want to know is; "Does this book have an ending?" Or does it just stop at a rather inopportune time? Is there any closure at all? Or is it just a 672 page introduction?

Especially in this genre, these are details that more and more readers want to know--and bloggers need to be supplying them... since publishers won't. Are we being sold a story--or teased into helping create a new franchise?

Help a reader out. ;)

Robert said...

You’re right Doug about whether a book can be both self-contained AND part of a series. The Long Price Quartet immediately comes to mind. And honestly, I usually do specifiy whether the book has any closure, ends on a cliffhanger, etc. However, in this case, I did not do that and I apologize.

So to answer your and Richard’s question, there is a little closure at the end of the novel pertaining to the quest that comprises most of the book, but like many titles that kick off an epic fantasy series, a lot of stuff is left unresolved...

Bushleague Critic said...

Perfect! Thanks for the info.

Now that you mention it, you are usually pretty good about including those details. So you get a pass for missing one. ;)

It's especially important on Book one of's...

In the case of this book: mediocre review + "a little resolution" = wait until the series is closer to completion. :)

Robert said...

You're welcome for the info Doug :) I think in this case, I was so caught up in other details (characterization, world-building, etc.) of the book, that I simply forgot how the novel ended.

As you said, it's important to include that information, especially for new series, and I'll try and do a better job of it in the future :D

M. R. Mathias said...

To the author... Your map links are awesome. I had to do mine myself by hand because of my indie budget ( $00 ) :-)

I would love to have that cool of a zooming layout and terrain texture for either of my series.

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