Thursday, November 18, 2010

Farlander by Col Buchanon

Farlander (The Heart of the World, #1)Farlander by Col Buchanan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Heart of the World (of which this is book one) looks much like the Mediterranean and surrounding areas, though without the long “boot” of Italy. It is an imagined world, though somewhat grounded in ours, with words and names similar enough to be familiar, but foreign enough to be new. The cultures, too, seem vaguely familiar, even to the point of monks who follow the Daoist Way.

But this is not the history of our earth, despite the similarities. In this world, there is a ruling cult, called Mann that preaches embracing the flesh and is bent on conquering the entire known world. Its society & politics remind one of ancient Rome, with plots to capture the throne, crazed rulers keeping the masses entertained by gladiatorial games, etc.

Still opposing it, even after 10 years of siege and war is the loose confederation of the Mercian Free Ports. The people here still follow Daoism, and are fighting to remain free.

And into this mix of politics and conquest are the Roshun – a society of assassins who train both mind & body using Daoist principles, and who avenge the deaths of those who have purchased their protection. (Think Ninja + Jedi and you get the picture of who they are.)

The book mostly follows an older, and dying, Roshun named Ash, who takes on an apprentice, Nico, a young man living on the streets in Al-Khos, the largest city of the Mercian Free Ports. Ash had always avoided taking on an apprentice, but, knowing his end is near, he nearly randomly chooses Nico, as he catches Nico trying to burgle his room. They go back to the Roshun monastery in the remote mountains (again, this evokes images of the monks of the Shaolin Temple) and Nico begins his training.

Meanwhile, the heir of the Mannian matriarch kills a young woman who wears the Roshun seal of protection. This launches a vendetta in which Ash and young Nico are main players.

The book switches back and forth among several main characters/storylines, keeping the pace quite brisk. We get to see the depravity of the Manninan rulers (though thankfully, not too terribly graphic), their plots to at last take the Mercian Free Ports, and their personal paranoia. We also follow a soldier of Al-Khos, where we see the devastating effects of the long war/siege. And we follow Ash & Nico.

All of this is quite skillfully woven together, in a world that Buchanon does a masterful job of making real. While some things are maybe a little too clichéd (e.g. master “jedi” and his apprentice), things do not always follow to form, which is refreshing. We definitely feel the grit and pain of hand-to-hand combat, and it is not in any way glorified. The pacing of the book is quite good, and I found myself ripping through the last half, wanting to know the outcome, which, while leaving open the door for book two, was not quite what I expected.

I thoroughly enjoyed the world created by the author, and do look forward to the 2nd book!

NOTE: The copy of the book I read was an advanced reader’s copy – this book will not be published in the US until January 2011. However, it has been published in Great Britain, so it may be possible to find a copy online, somewhere.

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