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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

“The Other Lands” by David Anthony Durham (Reviewed by Robert Thompson & Liviu Suciu)

Official David Anthony Durham Website
Order “The Other LandsHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Acacia: The War with the Mein

AUTHOR INFORMATION: David Anthony Durham is the author of “Gabriel’s Story”—winner of two American Library Association awards—“Walk Through Darkness”, “Pride of Carthage” and “Acacia: The War with the Mein” which is one of three novels by David that have been optioned for film adaptation and also helped Mr. Durham win the 2009 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. David is currently working on the concluding volume of the Acacia Trilogy.

PLOT SUMMARY: Several years have passed since the demise of Hanish Mein. Corinn Akaran rules with an iron grip on the Known World's many races. She hones her skills in sorcery by studying The Book of Elenet, and she dotes on her young son, Aaden—Hanish's child—raising him to be her successor.

Mena Akaran, still the warrior princess she became fighting the eagle god Maeben, has been battling the monsters released by the Santoth's corrupted magic. In her hunt she discovers a creature wholly unexpected, one that awakens emotions in her she has long suppressed.

Dariel Akaran, once a brigand of the Outer Isles, has devoted his labors to rebuilding the ravaged empire brick by brick. Each of the Akaran royals is finding their way in the post-war world. But the queen's peace is difficult to maintain, and things are about to change.

When the League brings news of upheavals in the Other Lands, Corinn sends Dariel across the Gray Slopes as her emissary. From the moment he sets foot on that distant continent, he finds a chaotic swirl of treachery, ancient grudges, intrigue and exoticism. He comes face to face with the slaves his empire has long sold into bondage. His arrival ignites a firestorm that once more puts the Known World in threat of invasion. A massive invasion. One that dwarfs anything the Akarans have yet faced...

CLASSIFICATION: The Acacia Trilogy is epic fantasy fueled by compelling characters, realistic world-building and powerful storytelling. In the vein of George R.R. Martin, Stephen R. Donaldson, Jacqueline Carey and Brian Ruckley, but defined by David Anthony Durham’s unique historical fiction-influenced viewpoint...

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 464 pages divided over a Prologue, three titled Books, and fifty-one chapters. Also includes a map of the Known World and the Other Lands and a detailed summary of the first book. Narration is in the third person via several different characters including returning POVs Corinn Akaran, her brother and sister Dariel & Mena, and Corinn’s councillor Rialus Neptos. Other POVs include the leaguemen Sire Neen & Sire Dagon, Barad the Lesser, Avril’s former companion Kelis Umae, Corinn’s informant Delivegu Lemardine, and Mór, a Known World slave now living in The Other Lands. “The Other Lands” is the second volume in the Acacia Trilogy after “Acacia: The War with the Mein”, and ends on a cliffhanger.

September 15, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Other Lands” via Doubleday. US cover art, which was originally used for the German edition of “Acacia: The War With the Mein”, is provided by Mikko Kinnunen. The UK edition (see below) of “The Other Lands” will be published on October 22, 2009 by Transworld.

ROBERT'S ANALYSIS: David Anthony Durham’s first attempt at fantasy in “Acacia: The War with the Mein”, was a successful one and left many readers excited for the sequel, myself included. While “The Other Lands” doesn’t quite measure up to the standards set by its predecessor, the second volume in the Acacia Trilogy is another strong effort once again led by David’s accomplished and poised writing, rich characterization and world-building that wonderfully reflects the cultural and racial diversity of our own world.

On the flipside, I didn’t think the characters were as emotionally engrossing as they were in “Acacia: The War With the Mein” and also felt that some of the POV choices were questionable like Sire Neen and Delivegu Lemardine, while others such as Mór were underutilized. As far as the world-building, it was great being able to finally visit the Other Lands and learn more about the Lothan Aklun and the Auldek as well as the League of Vessels, but for the most part I felt that David barely scratched the surface of these peoples’ interesting customs and philosophies.

Story-wise, “The Other Lands” is a mixed bag. On the one hand, there’s a lot going on in the book including the many problems faced by Queen Corinn—being pressured to marry and have a legitimate heir, quelling an uprising among the Known World’s common people, eradicating the foulthings created by the Santhoth’s corrupted magic, continuing to enforce the quota trade through a slave factory, deciding whether or not to reintroduce mist to the populace, famine, loss of trade, succession issues due to her sibling’s offspring, the unknown consequences of using the Song of Elenet, and so on. Add in conspiracies among the Numrek and the League of Vessels, a lizard/bird creature that Mena befriends, a nine-year-old girl who journeys in search of the Santhoth, Dariel’s trials faced in the Other Lands, and shocking revelations about the Auldek, Lothan Aklun, and what happens to the slaves, and there’s more than enough happening in “The Other Lands” to keep readers entertained. On the other hand, there are problems with the story’s execution. Pacing is languorous and never seems to accelerate past a jog, a number of subplots take forever to develop, and the manner in which surprising information is revealed is anticlimactic to say the least. To make matters worse, “The Other Lands” is clearly a bridge novel, comprised primarily of setup and nearly zero resolutions, although the last chapter goes a long way in overshadowing the aforementioned issues.

“The Other Lands” creatively is also a mixed bag, in particular the magic system that revolves around the Giver’s tongue and many of the issues that Corinn has to deal with as a queen. Conversely, I loved the dangers faced by those traveling across the Gray Slopes (the Barrier Ridge, sea wolves, the angerwall), the soul catcher and its frightening properties, the totem clans of the Auldek, and David’s imaginative fauna (tenten, kwedeir, frékete, antoks, Elya) which are brought to life with startling vividness.

In the end, David Anthony Durham’s “The Other Lands” shares many of the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor, but because of a story that is mostly setup, less engaging character arcs, lethargic pacing, and questionable decisions regarding big reveals and POVs, the second volume in the Acacia Trilogy falls short of the mark left by the superb “Acacia: The War with the Mein”. Nevertheless, much of this can be forgiven because “The Other Lands” is a middle volume and because these are issues that can be easily remedied, but more so because the novel promises a spectacular finish to the Acacia Trilogy...

LIVIU'S ANALYSIS: My opinion about the two novels in the series so far is the mirror of Robert's since I found "Acacia" a promising start with a great ending but with a very slow beginning, lack of balance in the novel's threads as well as moving occasionally to the edge of my suspension of disbelief. However the second part of it was tighter, more focused and "The Other Lands" picks up from there and manages to avoid most of the issues with the first novel. It is true that there is a significant setup part to this novel, but that was true of the first one also and here the universe of the novel expands considerably, while the true significance of various events is starting to be glimpsed, so the series goes a level up if you want.

There is the same high degree of inventiveness from the first novel, and the main characters are still fascinating from Corinn, Mena and Dariel to the "rogues" Neen and Delivegu and the ambition shown in the first installment is amplified here, making "The Other Lands" a major release for 2009.

The main drawback of this volume for me was essentially the one that "Acacia" had too: its ambition and originality is not always matched by corresponding smooth writing and the novel tends to grind to a halt once in a while; less than in the previous book, but noticeably so, though its narrative power and inventiveness makes you go back to it. Overall the series so far is a bit below my top fantasy epics and I strongly hope that the author will be able to match his ambition and originality with corresponding execution and write the masterpiece I am expecting...


Nate said...

You are always so rough on middle volumes!

This was way better than Acacia--more mature, better paced, and more plausible. Sure, it's not without it's kinks, but heads above the competition.

Liviu said...

I agree with most of the comments except the "high above competition" since the ambition of this series mean that the competition is GRRM, Scott Bakker or Joe Abercrombie and not run of the mill fantasy and there it does not quite achieve the execution of the above authors at their best.

But I think it's getting there.

Robert said...

Well it's just one person's opinion, but I personally enjoyed Acacia much more than The Other Lands and I still stand by my thoughts regarding pacing, execution and story. I also believe the finale will be awesome :)

And for the record, I'm not always tough on middle volumes. "Iron Angel" and "Shadow Gate" are two books that immediately come to mind which I felt improved upon the first one. Plus, I've recently finished Ken Scholes' "Canticle" and Robert V.S. Redick's "The Rats and the Ruling Sea" which completely blew me away. Not only are they much better than their predecessors, but they are two of the year's best fantasy releases...

Nate said...

Okay, so it's not heads above *those* particular competitors.

Robert said...

Well let me put it another way. I may have liked Acacia more, but The Other Lands is still really good and I believe the series deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Abercrombie, Lynch, Rothfuss, Sanderson, Abraham, etc. If I did ratings, I would give Acacia 4.5 Stars and The Other Lands 4 Stars...

Nate said...

Oh, juicy tidbit about Canticle. Just finished Lamentations and excited you liked the sequel more.

Haven't finished the Mistborn trilogy but don't think it compares to the others. I loved reading it, but it seemed almost amateur. Will have to check out Robert V.S. Redick. Love this blog for all the new books. Haven't stopped reading since I stumbled upon it.

Keep up the good work, y'all.

Robert said...

Nathan. If you liked Lamentation, then I think you'll love Canticle. I believe it's that much better :)

The Mistborn Trilogy concludes on a very high note. In fact, The Hero of Ages is one of the most satisfying third volumes I've ever read and much better than The Well of Ascension. The problem with the series is the workmanlike prose and characters that are hard to connect with, which I believe prevents the series from attaining greatness. On the flipside, the world-building and magic system is some of the best I've had the pleasure of reading...

Redick's first book has some problems with it, but the sequel mainly fixes those, and is an almost perfect novel...

Hope you continue to enjoy reading the blog!


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