Fans of Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks, and of classic, epic fantasy in general, should feel very at home here. I felt carried along in something huge and momentous from the first page. The story functions effectively on more than one level; dispensing deep philosophy in easy to understand terms one minute, and dishing out intense action-adventure drama the next. My favorite kind of story!
It’s worth mentioning that this is one of those period piece novels that allows you to better understand the world you’re living in today. “To become a master of equipoise (the form of magic the father is teaching the boy), you must avoid anyone who tries to lead you altogether, including me. We’ve recently come out of an age of division where, for centuries, they have broken us down so that we wouldn’t know how to be in balance with each other or with nature.” And so in a couple brief sentences the author sums up my view of the times we’re going through now just as readily as he describes his own times.
Thanks to the meticulous attention to world building with each chapter it doesn’t take long for the fantasy realm to become fully immersive. In addition, I enjoyed the way the writer delineated the different forms of magic and how they worked and related to one another in this world. I can’t wait to see this stuff unleashed as we head into book 2 and act 2 of his story arc. With these characters’ various forms of magic, moreover, come entirely different ways of seeing the world. This makes being inside their heads not only a whole lot of fun but a mind-altering experience, akin to dropping acid and other forms of fast-tracked enlightenment, lol.
That the author is part philosopher king, part great storyteller is a realization that comes to the surface time and again. Some favorite quotes stitched seamlessly into believable character conversation: “To become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion;” “The ruling class frightens its population with staged bloodshed, and then corals them towards tranquility by offering a solution that tricks them into exchanging freedom for security.” Wow, I don’t think even George Orwell could have topped that.
In this coming of age story, a father mentors his son who aspires to lead his people in how to avoid the sins of his forefathers, distilling profound Platonic philosophy into terms a child can process. If Einstein is to be believed, this capacity to take the most complex notions and simplify them is the mark of real genius.
As with Terry Brooks, I can see teens and young adults really relishing this coming of age story of a boy who would be king, as he learns to harness and direct the powers of the gods. Moreover, anyone who grew up with a troubled father-son relationship ought to take a look at this one that serves as one of the core story threads and learn from it. I can just as easily see more mature readers enjoying the deeper insights into life that so clearly mirror our current age, with lines like “Take your place amongst us and bid farewell to the eye of light, along with its illusory gods of slavery.” You know, the one percent the ninety-nine percent have been demonstrating about? The corporate middle management types you’ve been squirming under… Another line that could just as easily be a battle cry for an Occupy Movement demonstration: “There are two ways to enslave a nation, one is by the sword, the other is debt. If you control the money supply, you control the people.” Or how about: “Our wealth was accumulated over centuries through theft, cloaked under the guise of law and justice. Our power was amassed by the unwitting consent of a population whose minds were drowned in an ocean of fear.” Exchange “our” for “your” and you have another Occupy Movement rally poster.
Because the master-apprentice dynamic between father and son in The Tale of Onora devotes itself to the issue of how natural born leaders can keep from repeating the mistakes of their forefathers, this book becomes a primer for the new Renaissance age taking root in our times. Ours too is a world struggling to move in the direction of an age of equanimity where enlightenment shapes reason and casts away the derisive and divisive habits of our predecessors. The Tale of Onora addresses the issue of how we can awaken the greatness in ourselves so that we can shine that light on others, and not cast them into darkness with our own relative brightness. I can’t think of a better theme for an epic fantasy book, or any book, in this day and age.
Other incidental observations: there was a lot of lovely descriptive writing. I.e. “Billowing clouds worshipped the milky-silver glow of the full moon…”
As to my nitpicks, there was a fair amount of exposition that could have been better delivered by way of dialogue and in a way that was more organic to the story. The occasional use of adages seemed ill-advised, such as Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage…” I can’t imagine there was a Shakespeare in this realm. Very compelling action sequences and chapters full of excellent character dynamics and dialogue altered with descriptive passages which interrupted the flow of the action, perhaps trying to introduce too many facets of this rich, textured world too soon. But honestly, some of the most successful fantasy books in this genre, such as Game of Thrones, are all far guiltier of these sins. I doubt loyalist fans of epic fantasy will be put off one bit. There was also a little too much jumping around from character to character instead of staying with one for a while, for my tastes. But again, this is precisely the technique employed in Game of Thrones with its virtual rolodex of names to process. By the second half of the book, however, I ceased to be overwhelmed and started settling into these characters, curious to see how their paths would cross, and the effects they would have on one another.
One last note: the reader should realize that, much as with the first book of Game of Thrones, this book is an act 1 introduction to this author’s world; its job is to introduce the key characters and give us a sense of the conflicts ahead, which it definitely does.