Thursday, 25 February 2010
‘Farlander’ – Col Buchanan (Tor UK)
As I’ve mentioned before, this year is going to be the year where I’m in at the start on all these debut series that people are saying will be the next big thing. You know what it’s like, being the only person who can’t join in the conversation because you haven’t read the book? Well, no more of that for me!
Col Buchanan’s ‘Farlander’ won a hotly contested battle to be the next ‘thick’ book picked off the pile for a read, Sam Sykes’ ominous comments (next to that post) mean that I’ll be getting to his book very soon! Given some of the advance blurbs etc that I’d read, I was more than cool with the outcome here. Assassins and ravenous empires worked well for me with the ‘Malazan’ books and I saw no reason why this shouldn’t continue with ‘Farlander’.
As things turned out... ‘Farlander’ isn’t quite on the same level as Erikson’s ‘Malazan’ series but what you do get for your money is something very solid with the potential to be very special indeed.
For fifty years now, the Holy Empire of Mann has conquered nation after nation in it’s quest to spread it’s religion across the face of the world. Only the Mercian Free Ports still stand free and once the city of Bar-Khos finally falls there will be no hope left at all. Against this backdrop of incessant war and politicking, the Roshun assassin cult offer protection through the threat of vendetta but this isn’t enough to deter the most foolhardy of murders; like the son of the Holy Matriarch of the Empire of Mann.
Vendetta is vendetta and the resulting quest for this will lead a sickly assassin and his apprentice into the heart of the Empire itself. With the hand of everyone turned against them, the only thing they can be sure of is that there will be much bloodshed and death before the job is done...
Buchanan sets up a world that is perhaps a little too similar to the Malazan world (certainly ‘Gardens of the Moon’) for comfort, at least for a while. A predatory empire ruled by a scheming Empress with her own cult of assassins. One last city that still stands against the invaders. The parallels are plain to see.
As Buchanan progresses with his tale though, it becomes clear that he has not set out to emulate Erikson and Esslemont’s work. Maybe such similarities can be found in fantasy based empires and there will always be one last city standing in the way of total domination...
‘Farlander’ is a manic romp that takes in politics affecting nations at war as well as bringing the people who shape these nations into sharp focus. There’s a little something here for everyone and Buchanan shows that he’s not afraid to throw everything up on the air and see how it all lands. This uncertainty not only propels the plot forward at a ferocious rate but also results in one of the biggest surprises (for me anyway) in fantasy since a certain Lord got his head chopped off in a major fantasy series that we’ve all read. I’m trying desperately to avoid spoilers here! :o) I never saw this one coming and spent pages sure that things would work out. They didn’t and it’s all credit to Buchanan that he was able to keep me so rapt with the way that he gradually drew things out...
It’s not just the characters either. The fortunes of war have never seemed so random and capricious as they do here. Anything can happen and the mighty can be brought low far more easily than their stature would suggest...
By doing what he does, Buchanan not only tells his readers that he’s here for the long term (this isn’t a series about just one character) but he also tells us just what we can expect if we stick around. I’m sticking around.
You’re always starting off up against it if you’re writing a fantasy novel with assassins in it. Assassins are pretty much everywhere in fantasy and you’re going to need to come up with something pretty special if your assassins are going to stand out from the pack. The notion of vendetta immediately sets the Roshun apart from the rest and adds an interesting spin to the assassin’s work. The history of the Roshun also casts this group in an interesting new light. This is no offspring of a death cult or mercenary unit; the Roshun do what they have to because they really had no other choice. The characters of Ash and Nico also add fresh impetus to this concept. We get to see the Roshun for the first time through Nico’s eyes while, at the same time, Ash’s perspective gives the Roshun a sense of history that the reader is looking for. The mixture means that the reader gets the best of both worlds with a very well rounded picture of a group of men feared throughout the world.
Buchanan’s depiction of the relationship between Ash and Nico is very poignant and adds a layer of humanity to the ‘assassin mystique’. Both men are wary to trust and the way that they gradually interact and connect is touching, especially when you reach the climax of the book. Notions of honour and revenge are explored with a hand that is somehow deft and brutal all at the same time. Buchanan is sometimes guilty of using more words than is perhaps necessary but when you finally see the picture that he’s painting, well... you don’t mind so much.
If you’re going to be writing about assassins then you need to make the fight sequences go with a bang. Buchanan does this in style, aided in no small way by the discovery of gunpowder in this world. The resulting pyrotechnics are suitably explosive and the acrobatics, as well as the cold blooded fury, of the Roshun make for some spectacular scenes. The Roshun are ones for the shadows but they’re also not afraid of a full frontal assault in broad daylight, this sequence is more than worth the price of entry!
Despite some early issues that I had with the book, ‘Farlander’ kicks off Col Buchanan’s debut series in some style and promises great things for the future. If you’re a fan of blood drenched epic fantasy then this is a series that you should keep an eye on.
Nine and a Quarter out of Ten