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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Farlander" by Col Buchanan (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Col Buchanan Website
Order "Farlander" HERE
Read an Excerpt HERE

INTRODUCTION: "Farlander" was a debut that I have included in my 2010 Anticipated Book list because of the blurb which sounded interesting:

"The Heart of the World is a land in strife. For fifty years the Holy Empire of Mann, an empire and religion born from a nihilistic urban cult, has been conquering nation after nation. Their leader, Holy Matriarch Sasheen, ruthlessly maintains control through her Diplomats, priests trained as subtle predators. The Mercian Free Ports are the only confederacy yet to fall. Their only land link to the southern continent, a long and narrow isthmus, is protected by the city of Bar-Khos. For ten years now, the great southern walls of Bar-Khos have been besieged by the Imperial Fourth Army. Ash is a member of an elite group of assassins, the RĊshun - who offer protection through the threat of vendetta. Forced by his ailing health to take on an apprentice, he chooses Nico, a young man living in the besieged city of Bar-Khos. At the time, Nico is hungry, desperate, and alone in a city that finds itself teetering on the brink."

Later when the excerpt linked above became available and I liked it quite a lot, the novel became even a higher priority. After finishing Farlander, I have to say that after a first half in which it proceeded on pretty conventional lines but in a very engaging and well done manner so I was enjoying it a lot, the novel turned into a direction I really did not anticipate and I felt like everything had to be reevaluated.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: Farlander stands at about 390 pages divided into 33 named chapters that follow several POV's. There is a prologue and a map.

Ash is a Roshun operative and a Farlander in exile since his thirties when he was an officer in the "people's army" that fought the oppressing "Overlords" in a land far away, hence the name of the book.

His CO, General Osho, a member of the original Roshun order in his native land manages a desperate escape across the ocean to the continent of Mideres, where he founds a new Roshun order of Daoist assassins/operatives that guarantee that anyone that kills one their clients will be subject to vendetta.

As time passes and Ash gets older and seemingly suffering of an incurable disease that may disable him at any time and following the events of the prologue, Ash accepts to take an apprentice for the first time and finds Nico, a youth who escaped an oppresive home to the besieged Bar-Khos where he needs to steal to avoid starving.

However we follow quite a few other POV's including the Matriarch of the Empire of Mann Sasheen and her son Kirkus, a highly trained Imperial operative Che and Bahn, an officer from Bar-Khos.

Farlander is epic fantasy though set in a secondary world with gunpowder, artillery, handguns and airships in additional to the more traditional pseudo-medieval paraphernalia. The magic so far is subtle and indirect.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Farlander" is a novel of three parts and my impression changed considerably each time I moved from one part to another. I liked the writing a lot and the pages turned by themselves so I was able to progress beyond the beginning which is very conventional - villains are the ultra-cliched corrupt, debauched, participating in orgies that include killing humans barehanded, priesthood of an evil god/creed, while the seemingly main hero is the young apprentice to a super-assassin and he is a bit silly to boot. However there are some details here and there including airships, the subtle magic, gunpowder and some pov's that seem outside the main flow of the story, that hint at subtlety and a much more interesting storyline than the above would suggest.

Then there is the second part in which the plot thickens, the villains acquire some nuance and the action becomes fast and furious. Here Farlander stays within the bounds of the conventional too, but it moves from a "traditional 80's" story to more of a "new-epic 00's" one and it finally became a book I could really enjoy both as style and as content. There were some elements a bit out of place, some prose that makes one cringe here and there and a tentative romance that felt forced but if it stayed that way and I would have been quite happy and eager to read more.

However at some point Farlander pulled the rug from under my expectations and made me reassess all that came before and it remains to be seen how that will pay off. But if anything, this major readjustment of expectations made me very eager to read the next installment which became a big time asap since I am truly curious to see where the story goes from here.

There are many hints at a much deeper background than we have seen so far, with a wide-world out-there of which we saw just a little so far - an analogue of the Mediterranean basin if you want versus the whole Earth - so the series can go in lots of places.

A solid A and a very enjoyable novel, I hope the sequels will fulfill the great promise here and raise the series to the top of the heap in the epic fantasy world since it definitely has the potential.



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