Sunday, June 26, 2016
The Black Dream by Col Buchanan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is the third book in the Farlander/Heart of the World series. (The previous two are Farlander and Stands a Shadow.) This is not the end of the series, FYI; I'm guessing there will be at least one more, but the author's website has no information on what's next.
The series is set in a different world than ours, but one that has many similarities, both social and geographical. The main character is Ash, a member of the Roshun (ninja-like assassins), who is dying. In the first book he takes on an apprentice, Nico, who dies at the end. Ash avenges his death, which has major political repercussions. The fallout from the vendetta makes up book two. In this third book, Ash is trying to make it to the hidden "Islands in the Sky" where it is rumored they have the ability to bring the dead back to life. He is bringing Nico's ashes in hopes of doing this.
The backdrop to the series is the "heart of the world" - a very Mediterranean-like area, dominated by the Empire of Mann (that is much like the Roman Empire at its worst.) The Empire has managed to conquer most of the countries around the sea, with only the peninsula of Khos managing to remain free - though they have been under siege for years. We follow many characters throughout the books, from all areas - the Empire, Khos, the Free Ports, etc. The author manages to keep the narrative flowing, despite the many viewpoints. It's actually quite interesting to be in the minds of so many disparate characters, and not just be following Ash all the time.
Technologically, it's a little bit steampunk, with airships and the like, but no computers. There is a kind of magic that is introduced in this book, whereby "Dreamers" can manipulate things in the real world, such as creating storms or throwing large stones. This magic is based on manipulating the "bindee" which is described as the binary code(!!) underlying everything. Some people, called rooks, can manipulate the area of the bindee that is used for long-distance communication (think hackers with the internet), which makes sense to me. But having binary code underlying objects in the real world makes me think of The Matrix movies, and hints that this world is an artificial construct inside a computer, which I don't think is the author's intent. This discrepancy is one of the books few weaknesses.
The other weakness for me is lack of a character with whom I can really identify. The other main character in this book, Shard, is a young female Dreamer/rook, who seems tailor-made for me to identify with, but even here I just don't quite connect. Ash, as the main character, is sympathetic and someone the reader can admire and root for, but I don't really connect with him, either. There are many other lesser characters, as well, who are all well fleshed-out, but there is no one to personally connect with.
However, the strength of this book (and the series) is the world-building. The author makes this world feel 100% believable. The best comparison I can make is with the Game of Thrones series, where the socio-political constructs immerse the reader in a world that seems fully real. Buchannon also does a great job with action/battle scenes. I raced through the last half of this book, pulled along by the action.
Overall, this may be the strongest book in the series, and it introduces some major new plot twists, while moving the main story toward what looks to be the inevitable showdown between the Empire and the nation of Khos.
One other caveat - this series is not for the faint of heart. It is dark, grim, and gritty. There isn't much levity at all, except maybe a little gallows humor in some characters. There are many evil, sadistic characters, and with the overall backdrop being a war of conquest, there really isn't any let up in the bad things that happen. If you're looking for a light, escapist fantasy, this ain't it! But if you enjoy complex world-building, with lots of political intrigue and action, this is your series.