Thursday, 7 February 2008
‘The Prodigal Troll’ – Charles Coleman Finlay (Pyr Books)
Just the very title of this book had me interested from the start. Just what is a ‘prodigal troll’ anyway? Well, I had the chance to find out with Charles Coleman Finlay’s debut novel from 2005 (how long ago does that seem now…) Having finished the book, not only do I have a better idea of what a ‘prodigal troll’ actually is but I also enjoyed finding out.
A knight and a nursemaid escape a siege with the infant heir in tow. Things don’t go as planned for them (when has anything ever gone to plan in the realms of fantasy?) but the child survives and is adopted by a female troll who raises him as her own. As the boy, Maggot, grows older he realises that his place is back with humankind. Or is it? Maggot’s journey back into ‘civilisation’ will bring his ‘troll sensibilities’ into conflict with his desire to be accepted by his own kind and the choices that he will have to make will have more consequences than he realises.
Any book that attempts to place a new slant on the ‘generic fantasy monster’ is always going to be up against it in terms of reader expectations. Trollish life seems a little contrived at first with its mixture of caveman like behaviour and voting on every decision. I stuck with it though and, in the end, found it to be rather endearing in it’s own way.
The story itself is a good blend of worldbuilding and plot, balanced just right so you don’t get too much of either one or the other. This kept my interest and I wanted to know more about Maggot and his surroundings. I particularly liked the way that the author set clear boundaries on the size of his world by reintroducing characters from Maggot’s earliest childhood. For me, this showed a real sense of control over the plot and it was interesting to see how certain characters (such as Bran) had fared as adults.
Maggot’s journey, both physical and emotional, forms the backbone of ‘The Prodigal Troll’ and there is a real sense of progression in his developing attitudes towards his new surroundings. This is handled in a sensitive way that doesn’t come across as being too preachy even though the author sometimes comes across a little heavy handed with his message of ‘settlers raping the land and harming the native population’. Situations that puzzled me at first can be attributed to Maggot’s naivety although this doesn’t make things any easier for the reader. For example, seeing the world through Maggot’s eyes had me wondering just how many groups of invaders were encroaching on the valleys and a question (posed of Maggot) right at the very end has an obvious answer but he doesn’t got for it. One thing that really got to me though was just how recognisable Maggot was (as the ‘heir in exile’) when he made it out of the mountains. No-body needed more than a glance to see him for who he was (and he never picked up on this) and I was surprised that the story didn’t end with his arrest, just a small quibble but one that did make me think.
‘The Prodigal Troll’ is an engaging read both in style and content and really got me into the ‘troll mindset’ that the author was aiming for. It ends on a cliffhanger and I for one want to know what happens next.
Seven and a Half out of Ten