The Hickory Staff:
The Eldarn Sequence Book 1
(Gollancz, £14.99, 577 pages, trade paperback, published 20 August
reading this one was certainly a chore.
Story? Yes, there is one, devoid of both originality and surprises.
Characters? It has those too, though as inadequately realised and unconvincing
as any you will find anywhere in genre fiction. The prose? Flat and
uninspired. The setting? Shallow and poorly described.
Plot précis: It's a parallel worlds tale. In the fantastical
world of Eldarn four kingdoms are all ruled by descendants of the great
King Remond. As such kingdoms do, they bicker and fight. In the north
a fifth kingdom is ruled by the Larion Senate, a secretive fraternity
Just as Prince Markon of Rona is about to try reuniting the four kingdoms
(with a plan for unification as unlikely to succeed as a World Bank
conference on Third World Debt cancellation), one of the Larion sorcerors,
Nerak, is overwhlemed by evil forces from the dark places of the universe.
Nerak kills almost every member of the Larion Senate, and all the royal
families, possesses the sole princely survivor and assumes tyranical
control of all Eldarn. Shortly afterwards he makes a quick trip to our
world, kills several people and deposits a very potent magical tool
in a safe deposit box in a bank in Idaho Springs, Colorado (this being
about the year 1870).
Quick time-skip to the year 2000-ish. Eldarn is still suffering the
torments of Nerak's tyranny. In the meantime, Steven Taylor, a bored,
20-something Assistant Manager at the bank gets curious about the safe
deposit box which has been unopened for over a hundred and thirty years.
In due course he opens it and he, his room mate Mark, and his girlfriend
Hannah get transported across the void into Eldarn.
Once in Eldarn they get to fight Grettans and Serons, Wraiths and Demons,
join the resistance, survive assassination attempts, climb tall mountains,
raft down mighty rivers, discover their innate gifts for magic, conspiracy,
combat and what-have-you, and set about the necessary business of scotching
evil and setting the world to rights.
As the above should make clear, there is nothing new here, it's all
'off the shelf' from the Fantasy Writer's Library of Themes and Characters.
This might have been excusable if the ideas were well executed, the
language fresh and convincing, and the fantasy setting credible. None
of these things is the case.
The plot is really nothing more than an osbtacle course. You can see
Scott and Gordon gesturing towards Character Development and Crucial
Insights, but they just don't get there; the story simply boils down
to a long trip through a series of mundane and magical challenges in
order to have a laborious head-to-head tussle with the bad guy.
Regrettably there is also no appreciable talent with words on display.
Scott and Gordon cannot breath life into a fight scene, nor render emotions
with brevity and force; they produce stilted, interminable dialogue,
and muddled, uninspiring descriptions.
Eldarn, as a fantasy setting, is crucially undermined by the way Scott
and Gordon foist modern concepts and language on their characters. We
have rebels who have grown up in a medieval tyranny, who talk intensely
about the loss of their 'values' and the destruction of their 'culture'
and 'economy.' There are back-woods trappers dedicated to the appreciation
of fine wines, and soldiers who indulge in philosophical dissection
of their life-choices. This is 21st century morality, ethics, lifestyle-aspiration
and a fat, steaming heap of political correctness, sprayed all over
a feudal society, and it just doesn't work.
My recommendation? Give this one a wide berth, and if you want to read
a really lively, well constructed and plot-rich parallel worlds fantasy,
pick up Barbara Hambly's Darwath Trilogy.