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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

No Return by Zachary Jernigan (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read Zachary's guest post The Debut Novel: A Series of Intentions  
Read Civilian Reader's Interview with Zachary Jernigan 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Zachary Jernigan was born and brought up in the United States and has lived for most of his life in the western half of the country. He has a BA in Religious Studies from Northern Arizona University (2005) and an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast program (2011). His short fiction has appeared in a variety of places, including Asimov's Science Fiction, Crossed Genres, and Escape Pod. He has previously worked in a variety of fields and avoids seeking management positions. He currently lives in Northern Arizona and No Return is his Debut novel.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: On Jeroun, there is no question as to whether God exists--only what his intentions are.

Under the looming judgment of Adrash and his ultimate weapon--a string of spinning spheres beside the moon known as The Needle--warring factions of white and black suits prove their opposition to the orbiting god with the great fighting tournament of Danoor, on the far side of Jeroun's only inhabitable continent.

From the Thirteenth Order of Black Suits comes Vedas, a young master of martial arts, laden with guilt over the death of one of his students. Traveling with him are Churls, a warrior woman and mercenary haunted by the ghost of her daughter, and Berun, a constructed man made of modular spheres possessed by the foul spirit of his creator. Together they must brave their own demons, as well as thieves, mages, beasts, dearth, and hardship on the perilous road to Danoor, and the bloody sectarian battle that is sure to follow.

On the other side of the world, unbeknownst to the travelers, Ebn and Pol of the Royal Outbound Mages (astronauts using Alchemical magic to achieve space flight) have formed a plan to appease Adrash and bring peace to the planet. But Ebn and Pol each have their own clandestine agendas--which may call down the wrath of the very god they hope to woo. 

Who may know the mind of God? And who in their right mind would seek to defy him?

FORMAT/INFO: No Return is 292 pages long, divided over five parts which is further divided into twenty-three chapters and a prologue and epilogue. Narration is in the third-person primarily via Vedas Tezul, Churli Casta Jones, Berun, Pol Tanz Et Som, Ebn Bon Mari and Adrash. This book can be read as a standalone and has resolves most of its plot threads.

March 5, 2013 marked the publication of the US Hardback and e-book edition of No Return by Night Shade Books. The cover art is provided by Robbie Trevino.

ANALYSIS: Zachary Jernigan’s No Return is a debut that drew my attention to it like a moth to a flame. The blurb detailed a foreign world and races that was simply too enticing for a fantasy fan like me. The author was kind enough to send me a copy and I started reading it with high anticipation but not knowing what to expect.

The story is set on the world of Jeroun wherein a single habitable pan-continent is the focus of the entire tale. It is a world wherein a God named Adrash has existed for eons and now has left humanity and other races bereft of his divine presence. The world since then has developed in interesting ways after Adrash nearly destroyed it by causing two of his artificially created spheres to slam onto Jeroun’s surface and caused an ice age of sorts. The two main religions that have arisen due to these actions are Adrashi and Anadrashi that espouse either rule of Adrash or rule of man. Both these factions have long clashed with each other causing further rifts and doubts to arise. Adrash since then has created several spheres that he aligns in a fashion of sorts, which has been titled “the Needle” and threatens to wipe out Jeroun’s inhabitants. This has lead to an interesting development and now we find ourselves in midst of the story wherein all the characters are trying to achieve what they think they should.

Vedas Tezul is a warrior of the 13th order of Black Suits who is also the most adept fighter amongst them and is chosen to be their representative for the decennial tournament at Danoor. Churli Casta Jones is a warrior who has her own reasons to travel to the Danoor tournament but she’s not alone and will have to learn to trust other warriors again. Berun is a constructed man and therefore not entirely human but he shares within his mind, memories of his creator and will have to decide whether he is his own person or just a creation. Pol Tanz Et Som and Ebn Bon Mari are royal outbound mages who regularly make trips into space to observe Adrash and the Needle. They however have their own plans to accomplish and they will do anything everything to get their way. These are the main POV characters and the reader will have to ascertain what each and everyone wants.

This book is one of the weirdest and simply terrific fantasy-SF hybrids that I have ever come across. Firstly kudos to the author for coming up this plot and ensconcing a complex world, races, and magic system within such a slim volume. The author also retains a certain simplicity to his tale by not making it overtly obtuse a la Erikson or R. Scott Bakker. This was one aspect that I liked a lot, not that the author has made this story an overtly simplistic one as there’s a lot going on and packs quite a wallop within its pages.  It focusses on religion, group mindsets and the way of life as evolved due to circumstances (as seen uniquely on this planet) and all of which makes for a very fascinating story.

His world and storyline are definitely unique in the sense that they combine different genres and themes to give us a story about finding the truth (be it about life, religion, one's role, etc). The author has to be lauded for his effort in undertaking such a different story as he also tackles various issues brought forth by religious viewpoints that differ drastically, ethnic and racial tensions and much more. He however has managed to combine all these difficult queries within the folds of his story in spite of the single volume nature of the tale. The author also takes a very vivid view towards the sexuality of his characters and writes some exotic scenes featuring alien anatomy. For a few readers who aren't used to such frank scenes, might not be able to fathom it entirely but again it will be upon the reader's perspective in regards to the judgment of these scenes.

If there is a drawback to this story then it would be the way the story ends, the reader will want to know more about the world and the characters introduced within. In this regard while the story ends on a climatic note, certain threads left open will cause some consternation for readers that are engulfed within the story. I was one among them and therefore I would very much like to know more about the future and past of this strange alien world. Zachary Jernigan has spoken about this aspect in his guest post a bit as well in his email correspondence. Hopefully most of the questions about the world and its history will be answered in a companion volume and so I’ll among the first to grab it whenever its written.

CONCLUSION: Zachary Jernigan writes with a flair for the weird and makes it endearing enough for readers to feel familiar with it. No Return is a magnificent debut that straddles fantasy and SF genres seamlessly and makes itself into a jewel faceting both fields. I completely loved this debut and will have very high hopes from Mr. Jernigan for all his future works based on the raw talent that is showcased within. Make sure you don’t miss this one as this book will be definitely featuring highly in my year end lists.


az060693 said...

The author's got a great sense of humor, check out his review of his own book on goodreads

Zacharyjernigan said...

Ha! You saw that? That makes me feel good. And thanks for saying I have a good sense of humor! I wish I could convince everyone else of that...


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