The Siege of Arrandin: Book One of the Arrandin
(Earthlight, £5.99, 517 pages, paperback; July 1999.)
The Empire of Lautun is having, well, a bad hair day. The Emperor,
Rhydden Peacemaker, is a not-particularly-peaceful man. Snide and malicious,
he plays nasty little games of favouritism and pays far too much attention
to the sinister Archmage
Meanwhile, the ancient Aeshtar religions are being persecuted by the
brash, arrogant, new Vashta religions. The noble houses have split colourfully
over the religious issue, the best of them taking a position opposing
the Emperor, while the Council of Magi do their best to hold a principled
Just to put the icing on the cake, a hoarde of twenty thousand Easterners
come steaming over the horizon and over-run the country around the strategic
city of Arrandin.
In the face of these unwelcome developments, there's nothing for it
but that High Councilor Rhysana of the Council of Mages, and her assorted
fellow-travellers, must high-tail it to Arrandin, post-haste, and set
to work digging out the hidden secrets of its mighty magical defences,
fight lethal sorcerous duels with barbarous Eastern wizards and priests,
smite the foe hip and thigh and still find time for an occasional cosy
evening in front of a nice toasty fire...
Oh, and just in case cut-throat politics and a flamboyantly brutal
siege complete with summoned demons, lightning bolts, and the shades
of the departed aren't enough to grab our attention, Herniman throws
in the odd abduction of key characters, treachery, brings the dead back
to life, and periodically threatens the return of The Enemy, the Mighty
Demon Captain who was vanquished (but not killed, they never are, are
they?) fifteen hundred years before...
So, why is the book so... un-enthralling?
It isn't that Herniman is a bad writer. He handles his prose adequately.
And it's not that his plot lacks incident or colour, there's plenty
He makes, I think, three mistakes.
Firstly, this book is overloaded with characters. There are dozens
and dozens of them, and they all have ridiculous, hoaky 'exotic' names.
After Dhurgaur, and Boldren and Dengriis, and Hrugaar and Salbar, you
have to wonder how the Archmage Ellen got her foot in the door!
Regardless, and joking aside, there are just too many of these people,
introduced too fast, given no time to really develop a presence in the
reader's mind, each with their own magical or martial speciality, and
ultimately it all gets tediously confusing trying to recall who's who
and what they did last.
Secondly, and worse, the principal characters only rarely come alive.
They are, sadly, rather stereotypical. The good are too Good, and the
bad are too Bad. Credible, complex characters are rare here, and there
is also a lack of vividness, of a clear sense of their physical and
Thirdly, and worse still, this 'Book One' doesn't feel like a Book
One, it feels like a Book Three, or maybe a Book Four. The backstory
is massive. It's not just that Herniman wants to bring the reader up
to date on the history of the Empire of Lautun, he also feels obliged
to bring you up to date on the life-stories of all those characters!
And this, it has to be said, is a complicated Empire and a collection
of people with complicated lives. We're just getting to grips with the
political squabbles in the Imperial Court of Nobles, with the arguments
of the Old and New Priesthoods, with the different Magical Traditions
within the Council of Mages, with the politics and cultures and past
of this world, when we have to back-track to learn about why Rhysana
hates and fears the Archmage Merrech, or find out about Hrugaar's Fay
heritage, or ponder why Erkal Dortrean dislikes the Emperor so much...
Herniman could have (and maybe should have) written a previous trilogy
just to get his readers current with all the ins and outs of prior events.
The Siege of Arrandin is decently written, but poorly structured.
The author tries to do far too much with far too many people between
one set of covers, and his major characters are only occasionally captivating.
There are occasional flickers of interesting dialogue, and the societies
he's created could have been compelling, if there were the time to pay
adequate attention to their intricacies, but, alas, there wasn't.
Review by Simeon Shoul.