I’ve mentioned in this space an inability to find a good fantasy/sci-fi novel of late. The closest I came was Richard Morgan, who does wonderfully grimy cyberpunk in the “Neuromancer” mold, but nothing that satisfies a hankering for some good old-school sword-n-sorcery. That itch is now nicely scratched by Karen Miller, a new Australian author I noticed when I passed by her book on the shelf. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was attracted by the striking cover – we here at Bookpusher Headquarters are not above good marketing techniques. (I also cheerfully welcome bribes, gifts, and kickbacks, so publishers, please take note.)
The interesting thing about this book – and the sequel, of which there’s only one, so no nine-volume series that you’ll have to wait until you get your AARP card to finish – is that it doesn’t really follow the traditional tropes of your basic fantasy novel. You’ve read the type before: young guy/girl comes from backwoods town, gets caught up in world-changing forces beyond their control, insert an apocalyptic prophecy somewhere in chapter nine, hero learns swordcraft/magic/macrame/whatever, finds themselves plunged in the middle of a war against a bad guy with the fate of the world at stake, they find love, hero wins, and world saved, or at least until the next book comes out.
Well, all that is here, but Miller finds a fresh and interesting take on the standard fantasy tale. Instead of showing off her world and her magic system, shoving it in our faces in a look-at-me way, she focuses on the characters, slowly building traits and relationships between them until you genuinely care about these people. Magic exists here and is central to the plot, but it doesn’t even become a big deal until well into the novel. The book is so well-written and the characters so well-defined, you don’t even notice that there’s no dragons or orcs or enchanted weaponry anywhere in the thing. And no elves! When’s the last fantasy novel you read that didn’t have a freaking elf in it?
So seek this one out, if you’re in the mood for it. Good writing, an original fantasy world, and characters you want to have lunch with.
And no elves.