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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Re-Review: Irenicon by Aidan Harte (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)



AUTHOR INFORMATION: Aidan Harte was born in Kilkenny, Ireland. He studied in the Florence Academy of Art. He currently works as a sculptor in Dublin and his sculpture can be seen in Sol Art Gallery in Dublin. He works in the classical tradition informed by the early 20th century expressionists. He has also directed an IFTA winning, BAFTA nominated kids’ TV show, Skunk Fu, which was broadcast on BBC, Kids WB and Cartoon Network. This was his debut.

OFFICIAL BLURB: The river Irenicon was blasted through the middle of Rasenna in 1347 and now it is a permanent reminder to the feuding factions that nothing can stand in the way of the Concordian Empire. The artificial river, created overnight by Concordian engineers using the Wave, runs uphill. But the Wave is both weapon and mystery; not even the Concordians know how the river became conscious - and hostile. But times are changing. Concordian engineer Captain Giovanni is ordered to bridge the Irenicon - not to reunite the sundered city, but to aid Concord's mighty armies, for the engineers have their sights set firmly on world domination and Rasenna is in their way.

Sofia Scaglieri will soon be seventeen, when she will become Contessa of Rasenna, but her inheritance is tainted: she can see no way of stopping the ancient culture of vendetta which divides her city. What she can't understand is why Giovanni is trying so hard to stop the feuding, or why he is prepared to risk his life, not just with her people, but also with the lethal water spirits - the buio - that infest the Irenicon. Times are changing. And only the young Contessa and the enemy engineer Giovanni understand they have to change too, if they are to survive the coming devastation - for Concord is about to unleash the Wave again...

FORMAT/INFO: Irenicon is 583 pages long divided over sixty-eight numbered chapters with an epilogue. Narration is in third-person by Sofia Scaglieri, Giovanni the engineer, Doctor Bardini, Gaetano Morello and a few other minor characters. Irenicon is the first book of the Wave trilogy and has an ending that concludes the novel’s major storylines.

April 1, 2014 marked the North American e-book and hardback publication of Irenicon by Jo Fletcher books. It was previously published in the UK by the same publisher on March 29, 2012.

ANALYSIS: Irenicon the word sounds mysterious and was unknown to me when I first heard of it. Its meaning, I discovered was a device or proposition for securing peace. Such an intriguing word and the debut from Aidan Harte also dripped intrigue from its blurb to the overall premise. The book is an alternate historical story with the central premise being that Christ never reached adulthood. Herod was successful in killing Mary’s son and thus the prophesied messiah was never able to spread his words. His mother however was venerated as the holy Madonna and she did her best to spread his message. Christianity as we know is forever altered and becomes a different religion altogether.

Fast forward to the 14th century wherein the Italy we know is there in an altered state. Rome is briefly mentioned however is not the power it was in our world. There are two main cities that vied for power, Concord and Rasenna however Concord harnessed a terrible power through a mysterious process invented by Girolamo Bernoulli who managed to astound everyone with his brilliance. He managed to up throw the influence of the church and created a society of scientists and engineers that share some shades with the Dunyain of Earwa. Though not so heartless in their devotion, the engineer guild pioneered by Bernoulli has lead to the rise of the Concordian empire and the crowning movement was when they engineered a wave to disrupt Rasenna’s geography. The offshoot is that the after effects have lead to some sentience being developed by the weapon and now has developed a rather sinister attitude towards humans.

The story begins with the two narrators namely the young to-be-Contessa Sofia Scaglieri and the engineer Giovanni. She’s the to-be-ruler of Rasenna and he’s the enemy sent to build a bridge across the waters of Irenicon so that the Concordian army can march across and show its marital splendor thereby cowing any thoughts of Rasennian rebellion. Thus is a destiny created between these two as they go about their various individual paths not knowing how closely linked they will be to each other. There are other POVs as well however their presence is only from time to time and often gives the reader a perspective beyond the two main characters. The story is quite unpredictable in its scope and the author does his best to dole out much about the world and the enigmatic Bernoulli in the form of footnotes.

Another succulent feature of the book is its Erikson-esque prose that manages to draw the reader in and confound them with the world presented. The magic system is present but more akin to a K.J. Parker world is manifested in small amounts and generally takes a secondary role. The emphasis is strongly on characters and they are what power the story. The character cast is not a large one however the characters presented are a well rounded lot who come in many shades. Their journeys might not be predictable but they are indeed interesting to read about. The author very vividly brings to life a small town riven apart by infighting and its divisive mentality, and this view is thoroughly expanded throughout the book.

The story takes some interesting turns and the readers will be kept guessing till the very end as to what’s happening and how the story ends. The plot also shares some aspects and philosophy with that of the Matrix, though not overtly an SF story, there are some valid edges to it that makes one wonder as to what other surprises the author has in store for the remaining two books in the trilogy. The climatic twist of the story is one that can go either way, either surprise the reader entirely or just be downright off-putting. Readers might have to read it with a certain expectation that the author will clarify more about it in the next book. Lastly on the aspect of character deaths, the author's writing style and presentation reminded me of David Gemmell in some aspects and this was something that I enjoyed.

One of the main drawbacks of the story that I noticed was that while its characterization led to some interesting results, it also robbed the story of its pace and this can be a very concerning factor as the book is a 600 page tome. The tepid pace often causes disconnect with the plot happenings as there are events happening which will want the reader to immediately know what happens next however the sluggish pace might deter readers. Another aspect that is a bit unexplained is the level of technology as well as certain happenings of the story; it is never clearly detailed and hence can cause certain readers to question the premise of the story. I was willing to go along with the story and hence it worked for me. Readers will have to decide for themselves in this regard.

CONCLUSION: Aidan Harte’s debut is an eclectic mix of influences and therefore makes the story a touch more intriguing than the blurb makes it out to be. I went in not knowing what to expect and was pleasantly surprised to find a story that is in parts a love story and in parts a thriller. Irenicon is a hard book to define and so all I can say is that give it a try to see whether it matches your interest, I happened to find it pretty exciting and original amid the current fantasy landscape.

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