Anthony Durham David is no stranger to history – Having gained fame through his historical fiction, “Pride of Carthage”. And this time around, he brings in his entire skills at historical fiction and momentous research skills into this new epic fantasy series – Acacia – beginning with the War with Mein – an wickedly fascinating fantasy tale with set in a wonderful secondary world, the scale of which I have never seen in a long time. Never have I loved a world so rich, so visceral, with back stories, histories and steeped in detailed folklores that vary from place to place within the Known World. The last I fell in love with the entire setting of a fantasy novel – was perhaps, Westeros or harking even further back, maybe the Middle Earth. The Known Worlds of Acacia comes very close. In its scope, richness and depth.
Not to say, it’s just the world-building that is master class in this book. Durham’s got it right when it comes to the complex characters, thunderous battle and action scenes that take your breath away and above all, his easy prose that is so good that it borders on the literary without weighing down the plot or the story. His prose – while not exactly first person narrative – mostly from a third party POV helps excel in drawing out the surroundings around characters, creates the vivid visceral images of the happenings.
It’s epic in all manners – spanning across two generations of the Akaran dynasty tracing the lives of the four royal children as they grown up in the shadows of war and hostile conquest, burdens of a world changing spell or curse hanging heavy on them and promises of something even more spectacular to unfold in the following books as Durham hints at mysterious races outside of the Known World that might converge on and destroy it. The plot rolls along, said from the POV of the four children – split into 3-parts - part-one deals with “King’s Idyll”, part-two fleshes out the “Exile” and part-three brings all threads to a shattering climax.
I had read this book a while back - but realized had stopped it midway as I found it too slow and plodding ( beset as I was with this maniacal desire to finish Erikson, sadly still pending!) I picked it up again recently - now that the series is complete and found out to my delight, what a wonderful gem this is.
Part-1 is probably the slowest, as Durham introduces the various sub-plots in action here and painstakingly draws up the canvas on which the Known World exists – he does this brilliantly peppered with myths, legends and folk tales that throws up the picture of a land steeped in history, this also gives us a lot of juicy titbits which we desperately want to follow, but the pacing pulls us up and forces us to sit back and go along with the royal children’s lives. So Aliver, Corinn, Mena and Dariel are growing up within the confines of the Acacian Palace in a kind of idyllic existence unawares of the storm gathering outside. The Storm is the race of men called Mein – whose ancestors have been slighted and driven away from their original homelands by the Akaran ancestors and are bristling and preparing for revenge for a really long time. It strikes homeland in the form of an assassin who kills the beloved king Leodan and sets in motion a huge war. Meins sweep through Acacia and their chieftain Hanish Mein takes control of the Acacian kingdom.
Part-2 and 3 are excellent in terms of plotting, action and closure – personally I loved part-2 much better where the action and plots peak up to dizzying levels only to plunge sharply down and pick up to higher levels by the end of the book. It picks up nine years later and deals with the children or grown-ups now, in exile - the different men or women they have grown up into. Aliver who has transformed into this formidable warrior and who personifies the prophesy that he has to grow into, Corrin remains back at the palace, and unwittingly transforms into Hanish’s lover. This was one hell of a character – Corrin and in terms of growth and conflicts, you wouldn’t find a better written role ever. Her conflicts, confusion and transformation was some of the best written scenes, for me. But the character I most enjoyed was Mena. She grows up in an island archipelago – called Vumu – having taken on the role of a priestess and embodies the “Maeben” – an angry goddess of the sky. She grows into this part, the rage and violence searing into her personality and changing her forever. I just loved this spunky priestess. Kick-ass personalization here. The youngest prince, Dariel also has enough heart-stopping action moments, having grown up to be an infamous sea-raider. I found this part exhilarating following the various adventures they are part of. Part-3 is when the strings are drawn closer – with the help of Council man Thaddeus Clegg who brings together the four kids in the titanic struggle to put an end to the Mein rule.
An epic in all sense, Durham has satisfactorily concluded the conflicts presented in the first part, leaving us with tantalizing hints about momentous stuff to follow. I, for one, will be taking the plunge.
Loved this book one – already started with book-two and loving it so far. Four and a half stars.