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Fantasy Review: ‘Affirmation’ by S J Faerlind

I read Prophecy, the first book in the Lirieias Children series, a few months ago and I enjoyed it although I had some issues, but after that slightly tentative debut this is a much more assured piece of writing. The story picks up exactly where the previous book left off, with the Gryffin split into two camps, Kratyn the rebel taking his supporters elsewhere, and Jurel uniting with the Orryn to attempt to defeat the aggressive Lord Defender, ruler of the plains humans, in the belief that Anarion is the Child of Prophecy.

The first book spent a lot of time introducing the various races of Gryffin, Orryn and humans (and not forgetting the tiny Grovale, who act as servants for the Gryffin), and building the characters, particularly the strangely bonded pair, Anarion the human/Orryn and Teryl the Gryffin. This one hits the ground running, with action almost right from the start, but theres enough information to remind readers of events and characters from the first book. I enjoyed seeing the extraordinarily timid Orryn coming out of their sheltered valleys and undertaking dangerous missions on their own. The author cleverly shows us some fairly familiar human activities, like music-making, dancing and the copious consumption of beer, through bemused Orryn eyes (although surely they have music in Orryn society?). I loved the way they diligently took notes of everything they saw, in a properly scientific manner. The Orryn make a refreshing change from the typical fantasy hero type, who is often brimming with self-confidence, or at least a willingness to swing a sword where necessary. The Orryn, by contrast, are so averse to aggression that they keel over into unconsciousness whenever confronted with it.
The magic system is made clearer in this book, and it turns out to be rather simple, but powerful in an ingenious variety of ways. I very much like the way humans need to power their magic with stones, but the Orryn have an innate ability. This distinction leads to some surprising (although completely logical) differences in their abilities. More specifically, both races have some powers which the other is incapable of. As with most fantasy, magic is used both to spring surprises on the characters, and also to enable them to get out of trouble, but the possibilities are laid out well in advance so that it never feels like a cheat.
I grumbled a bit in my review of the first book that too little was revealed about Sharra (Anarions mother) and the Lord Defender (the villain of the piece). Both omissions are rectified very satisfactorily in this book. The Lord Defender, in particular, steps out of the shadows now and becomes a character in his own right, and although it doesnt entirely make his motivations clearer (but then Ive never understood the desire for global domination, frankly, so maybe thats just me), nevertheless it makes him a more real and rounded person instead of a nebulous bad guy. I rather like his sidekick, Branden, too, who’s rather more intelligent than is usual for the villain’s henchman.
The ending was something of a surprise, not exactly a let-down, but a relatively low-key moment. But then the whole book is very much about the characters and how they come to adapt to their changed circumstances rather than being a high action affair, so this was very much in keeping with the rest of the book. In fact, the last few chapters, and especially the revelations regarding Jinelle and Bashide, were very moving. It’s not an easy task to create non-human characters that resonate with the reader just as much as humans while staying true to their own natures, but this is something the author has achieved magnificently, as well as creating clearly distinct cultures, even amongst the various humans. This book is a huge step up from its predecessor. It’s still rather wordy and formal, but that is, after all, part of the Orryn nature, so it’s highly appropriate. In the end, it’s the characters who stick in my mind – Anarion and Teryl, the enterprising Kaidal and Talla, Shayla, dignified in captivity (and perhaps influencing the Lord Defender in positive ways), and many more. A thoroughly enjoyable read, and a good four stars.
Books in the series:
Prophecy (review here)
Affirmation (this review)
Destiny (forthcoming)

Fantasy Review: ‘Prophecy’ by S J Faerlind

This is the author’s debut publication, and although the idea of a prophecy is anything but original in fantasy, the combination of telepathic Gryffin, and magic-wielding shy human-like Orryn is an unusual one. And the prophecy is a Gryffin one, but relates to someone human, or in this case part-human, which is a nice touch.

The two main characters are Anarion, raised as Orryn but mostly human, and the subject of the prophecy, and Teryl, a young gryffin. Anarion is very nicely drawn, a young man having trouble fitting into the polite, restrained Orryn society because of his unafraid, curious human blood. Teryl is of similar age (in Gryffin terms) and although the two are initially at odds with each other, they inadvertantly become mentally linked together (a sort of telepathic bonding). The affection they share is charming, and the scene where the two realise they are bonded is one of the most delightful in the book. The other characters are not quite so well rounded, but they are mostly likeable (those who are meant to be likeable, that is). I would have liked to see more of Sharra, who interested me, but after the prologue she was very much in the background. The humans in their village were a bit of a disappointment, no more than stereotypical peasants, who never quite came alive for me.

I always enjoy a book where the author has taken the trouble to create a world which is believably different, and I very much liked the two societies of the Gryffin and Orryn, living in an uneasy co-existence. The Orryn are timid and terrified of the Gryffin, but their proximity protects them from the humans living elsewhere who would otherwise drive them to extinction because of their use of magic. Unlike humans, who have to use stones to power their magery, the Orryn have natural talents and are also inherently responsive by instinct to any creature in need. The telepathic and arrogant Gryffin also feel nicely ‘other’; these are not just giant talking beasties! The societies depicted are rather simplistic. The Orryn are a little too idealised: the gentle, vegetarian way of life seems a bit implausible, but makes a nice contrast with the meat-eating Gryffin. I’m not sure that the political machinations of the Gryffin were quite convincing, but it’s difficult to portray a society which determines leadership by brute force, while also displaying the intelligence and subtlety to plot against each other, and the author made a reasonable attempt at it.

Then there are the humans living on the plains as farmers, and the Lord Defender who keeps the population in check by ruthless cruelty, poverty-by-taxation and magic. I’m not a big fan of a villain who has no redeeming features, as seems to be the case here, but he’s a very shadowy presence in this book and I’m hoping that in the later books the Lord Defender will turn out to be a little more complex and therefore interesting, and perhaps there will be a necessary reason for keeping the farmers in terror and abject poverty..

And as if there weren’t enough races in the mix, there are also the Grovale, the little creatures who help out the Gryffin by doing all the difficult tasks that paws and beaks just aren’t designed for, and who occasionally get eaten for their trouble. It interested me greatly that they were very drawn to the Orryn, and I would like to know the reason for that (if there is one, other than – the plot needed it).

The biggest problem I had with the book is the writing style. It’s not a high-action book, but what action there is creates all the right levels of drama, which is fine. In between, however, the writing is very dry, with long passages of overly detailed and often repetitive exposition. Sometimes there is exposition followed by a dialogue making much the same points. And lots of exclamation marks! Everywhere! On the other hand, there are a few sudden lurches in time or key moments where a little more description would have been welcome. Here’s a quote from the Prologue:

“Channelling red-spectrum energy through the ruby Stone he carried, he used it to create a Translocation portal. It snapped open in front of him, glowing red to his Stone-sight. He extended his hand to her. “Come and find out,” he invited. Sharra looked at him uncertainly for a moment and he held his breath, hoping she would agree. Finally she smiled and took his hand, and he sighed in relief. Sometime later he gazed down at her beauty shining in the sunlight and returned her smile. Sharra’s eyes sought his, her expression bemused. “As enjoyable as your company has been this afternoon, you still have not told me what it is that you need me to do,” she noted.”

I have two issues with this. Firstly – Translocation portal? That’s neat, but what is it like, how does it work, what does it feel like to go through… and a million more questions. And then – sometime later??? So where did they go? What happened? Actually, we do know some of what happened, because it turns out that Sharra is now pregnant, but a bit more information would be nice. Was it romantic or did he use magic to seduce her or (since it’s part of the prophecy) did she feel inexplicably drawn to him? It feels like there’s a chapter missing. [Edit: I was too impatient; many of these questions are answered in book 2.]

Now, a reader’s response to writing styles is very much a matter of personal taste. Most of the time, I found it no more than a minor irritant, because I was drawn into the story, particularly the whole business of the prophecy and how it relates to Anarion, and I liked the characters too, but I can imagine that others would find it too dry and wordy. And I have to admit, there were times when things got very bogged down. A little less of the hard-to-read exposition, and a little more dialogue would have lightened a number of chapters. On the plus side, there are virtually no typos and only an occasional phrase that felt a little clunky to me. I liked, too, that the different races had their own ways of talking. The very polite and formal Orryn say ‘It would please me to know…’ instead of asking a question directly, while the Gryffin are much more forceful, and the humans have yet another manner of speech, like this: “Well ya talk like a lord,” she noted, examining him critically, “And ya sure don’t look like nobody ‘round here. In fact ya don’t look like nobody I ever saw b’fore. If ya don’t want ta be called ‘Lord’, then what should we call ya?” This is rather nice attention to detail, which many authors forget.

The plot builds nicely, and the author does a good job of making all the decisions the characters make perfectly believable, in line with their racial characteristics, their personalities and ages, as well as the needs of the story. Much of the drama centres on the need to keep Anarion in the dark about his history, but there are perfectly sensible reasons for this for all those involved so it never comes across as a contrivance for plot purposes. Anarion, in particular, is a perfect blend of mostly human and a little bit Orryn, and that affects everything he does. This aspect of the book was excellently done.

The climax, when it came, was nicely dramatic and worked beautifully both to resolve the issues for this book, and to set up the story for the next book. I loved the friendship between Anarion and Teryl, a most unusual pairing, and the prophecy and magic system intrigue me (and those Translocation portals…). However, the rather heavy writing style and the (so far) one dimensional villain keep this to three stars. [First posted on Goodreads July 2012]

Books in the series:

Prophecy (this review)
Affirmation (review here)
Destiny (forthcoming)

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