Review: Trial of Intentions (Vault of Heaven Book 2) by Peter Orullian

Trial of Intentions

 

Short Version:

An epic fantasy that plays with genre tropes, but not always in the way you expect.  Fantastic worldbuilding that includes a fascinating magic system that permeates the world and its sciences, interesting plot choices that cater to but nor are beholden to classic fantasy storytelling, and a Book 2 that can act as a book 1 for new readers.  It is a massive improvement from The Unremembered.  A book to read.

 

Longer Review:

When I am wrong, I am happy to admit it.  Ok, so happy is probably the wrong word.  Grudgingly.  Yes, when I am wrong, I grudgingly admit it.  I went into reading this book with some trepidation.  The first book, The Unremembered, contained hints of a greater story, intimations of fantastic ideas, and it suggested that the author had the best of intentions with the story he was telling.  But, as my earlier review of it suggests, I was less than impressed with the execution, in fact I was pretty damning.  However, those hints of depth, the small elements of creativity, and the chance that some of those things could come to fruition made me try the second book.  When I started reading Trial of Intentions my first thought was ‘Is this the same author of The Unremembered?’  The setting was the same, the characters had the same names, and the threats in the world were the same… but the writing was better, the character development was better, the focus of the story was better, the plot was more interesting, the world was more sharply realised, and it no longer seemed stereotypical or trite.  So, let me (grudgingly) say that I was wrong.  This is a book worth reading.  This is a series worth reading.  And Peter Orullian is an author worth paying attention to.

 

Trial of Intentions begins shortly after the climactic events at the end of The Unremembered, so the characters are in the midst of processing what exactly has happened to them, what it means for the world, and wondering where they go from here.  Given the severity of the confrontation at the end of Unremembered there are devastating ramifications for each of the characters.  They have been changed, but don’t yet understand how and this is very good for the story.  This functions as an initial re-introduction of Tahn, Mira, Sutter, Wendra, Vendanj, and Braethan that very briefly recaps what has happened to them and highlights just how their characters have been altered by events and begins to address what this means for them as well as suggesting avenues for character development.  But before it descends into tedious character introspection and exposition it is nipped in the bud at the best moment and action descends in the form of a fairly epic battle.  But make no mistake, Orullian never forgets about the character elements, he now just works them into the action and story so the reader can see their characters develop and not simply be told that the characters have developed.  Oddly enough, this habit of alluding to previous events while actively engaged in new ones, adds depth to the story and a sense of history to the narrative and it is something that Orullian never loses sight of.  This results in Trials actually functioning as an entry point into the series and renders The Unremembered as slightly superfluous.  But the upshot is that we are presented with characters who are now much more interestingly constructed, who are trying to work through complex and powerful emotions, who are active participants in the grand narrative, as well as their own personal stories, and who have no time for navel gazing as the fate of the world is at stake and the barbarians are at the gate.

Speaking of the barbarians.  One of my great dissatisfactions with Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings is the lack of voice given to the Orcs.  The brief glimpses we have of their culture, lives, and perspective, are vastly overshadowed by the power of the heroic narrative.  They are generally just brutal, monstrous enemies that are irredeemably evil and need to be destroyed without compunction or pity.  Orullian directly challenges this stereotypical position of demonising the enemy into a monstrous voiceless other and gives a series of POV chapters to one of the residents behind the Vale in the land of the Quiet.  Kett, the Inveterae, is a member of one of the many races that are imprisoned in the Bourne.  The short chapters dealing with his story add a great deal of depth and complexity to the conflict and emphasise the ‘two sides to every story’ adage.  While this is just one POV among many, it is refreshing to see that the world of ‘the enemy’ is as complex and as contradictory as that of the ‘allies’.  The introduction of Kett and the world behind the Vale also gives the story more balance in terms of what is coming and is a very welcome addition to the story.  The threat of invasion is that much more real and powerful because the reader witnesses the preparations and begins to get some insight into what motivates the Quiet.  Without this the enemy would remain a shambling horde of monsters and vague threat who, despite the effort Orullian has made to ensure they are distinct from Orcs and Trolls, would just be standard fantasy hero-fodder.

Of my many complaints about the first novel, it appears that Orullian has already anticipated them because most of my questions and areas of criticism have been roundly and solidly addressed in this story.  Where Unremembered was solely focused on Tahn’s quest, blindly followed Vendanj around on an extremely linear travelogue, and had the hero-centric narrative that has become stereotypical in the genre, this volume has a truly ensemble cast and presents a variety of story type.  Each of the characters now feels a great deal more rounded and has their own motivations for their actions, as well as exhibiting more complex emotions.  But more than that, the characters now feel active instead of passive.  They are executing plans.  They are attempting multiple approaches to solving the problem.  They are engaging in their own stories.  And each of those stories, while part of the greater narrative, is relevant, interesting, and distinct.

The orders of the Sheason and the Sodalists are finally explored and explained and Orullian works these facets of the story into the broader narrative so that they don’t feel like asides or expositionary lumps.  The events and crises in both the orders, especially the investigation of the Sheason order, from various perspectives, is one of the real pleasures of the book.  In particular, the view of Thaelon, as both the leader of the Sheason and the more private view of him as a father, is genuinely engaging and interesting.  Seeing his relationship with his daughter, and with the various other Sheason, adds depth and definition to both him and the order, making the entire concept and organisation that much more believable.  Seeing the schism within their ranks and how it affects him as well as the others gains a great deal more potency and emotional resonance as a result of this.  In terms of the wider story being told, the decisions made, with the best of intentions [pun intended], end up having severe ramifications for the conflict to come, as well as provide engaging exposition for the magic system and raising interesting questions about morality and order.

As with the rest of the book, the events actually affect the characters deeply instead of the characters merely paying lip-service to what has happened and carrying on as the narrative dictates.  Orullian presents characters being shaped and changed by what they see and experience and this makes them more rounded, understandable and relatable.  Due to their flaws, their decisions, good and bad, they come across as ordinary people trying to do their best in the most desperate of circumstances.  In other words, we can believe in them as people, not just characters or narrative functions.  This also results in both the micro- and macro-level of storytelling feeling more real, feeling more authentic, and giving the narrative a cohesive weight.

The conflict within the Sheason order is actually directly related to the events in Recityv and the politics of the city and the political storyline really comes alive in this volume and forms the major thrust of the book.  Set in Recityv and focused on the Convocation of nations, it blends the political manoeuvrings of the city from the perspectives of both Roth and Helaina with the stories and perspectives of the Sheason Vendanj, the Sodalist Braethan, the exile Grant, and even finds purchase in the magical, musical training storyline of Wendra in the Descant Cathedral.  Of all the plot threads that run through the story, this was the one that both captured my interest as well as slightly frustrated me.

On the positive side, Orullian demonstrates some great character writing.  Roth, the primary antagonist of this volume is a real piece of work.  He is despicable, arrogant, self-serving, ambitious, fervent, and fanatical, and yet, Orullian gives the reader insight into what actually motivates this man.  Roth could easily have become a caricature of an overly-melodramatic villain with moustache twirling plans, but what makes him truly fascinating and horrifying is his steadfast conviction that he is in the right.  Even more worrying is that some of his arguments and reasons sound eminently reasonable.  He is no frothing at the mouth mad-man, but a calculating and passionate advocate for a particular world view.  Orullian managed to create a character compelling enough to hold my interest, fascinate me, and, at the same time, make me want to stab him… in the face… with a saw-blade… repeatedly… So as a villain he is compelling, has depth and understandable motivation, and wants to save the world from what he sees are its faults.  The fact that those are the very things actually protecting the world puts him clearly in the villain camp, but we can understand why he acts the way he does.  Like Kevin Spacey’s character in House of Cards (2013-) he is someone whom you love to hate, but whom you can almost admire.

Helaina, on the other side of the political conflict, is also another character who grows leaps and bounds in this story.  She is very much the mirror of Roth.  He came from the streets, she was a child in a wealthy merchant family.  He is a fanatic who will sacrifice anyone to achieve his ends, she is a moderate who wants to work with people to bring them around to her way of thinking.  Yet both want what they see as best for the people, they are both willing to do what is necessary, even if it isn’t the most popular decision, and they are both convinced that their way is the right way.  Just like Roth, she has a vision for a better world.  Unfortunately for her, Roth’s vision and her own are entirely incompatible and are mutually exclusive.  Because of the constant opposition from the League of Civility she is struggling to hold the city, the land, and the world together in the face of an impending invasion from magical creatures and is in danger of losing everything to Roth before the Quiet even invade.  Her allies, the Sheason and the Descant, are directly threatened by the League.  Potential political allies are being manipulated or threatened.  She is beset on all sides yet displays enormous strength of will under the trying circumstances.

The back and forth between Roth and Helaina is fantastic to read, but… and there is an unfortunate but here… but, Orullian seems far too fond of Roth and lets the narrative become a little too contrived in order to keep Roth alive and important as an antagonist.  No matter what he does, no matter how despicable the act, and no matter how many times characters come into direct confrontation with Roth, no one ever seizes the opportunity to kill him.  He is built up to be the sole voice of the Civilisation movement, and not once do any of the heroes really try to take him out.  All of the conflicts result in Roth walking away, only to reappear about a chapter later and do the same things again.  Not only that, but he appears in almost every single League plan and important scene.  For the leader of a huge organisation that spans countries, he doesn’t seem capable of delegating at all well.  At times, despite being told how large the League is, you get a sense it is just Roth, a few friends, and a random collection of nameless foot-soldiers.  It also becomes a trifle frustrating that he can clearly engage in treachery, treason, murder, arson, blackmail and a host of other offences, but that even in the midst of chaotic insurrection the heroes fail to kill him.  It ends up feeling a little too neat.  A little too artificial and forced.  This is truly unfortunate given the strong elements of authenticity that Orullian has worked into the rest of the story and the world.  But it should be said that the vast majority of the Recityv storylines are fascinating and compelling reading.

Also in Recityv is Wendra’s story, mostly located in the Descant Cathedral.  While the Sheason practice a form of magic called rendering the will, Wendra is a Leiholan, a person with the ability to create magical effects with her singing.  While magical music is not exactly new, Orullian gives it passion, power and persuasiveness through his prose.  A guiding concept of resonance flows through the book and magic system, and goes to the core of the interpersonal relationships in the novel, and the fact that we are all shaped by our encounters with other people.  Wendra’s raw song, shaped by pain, betrayal and loss, is evocatively rendered on the page and like her character, it evolves and changes over the course of the story.  Once again, Orullian gives his characters the ability to be shaped by their experiences and we see this clearly in Wendra’s decisions, which might be right for her, but not necessarily right for the rest of the world.  Wendra is no longer the captive in need of rescue, and she is increasingly the commanding figure at the centre of the story.

Her interactions with Belamae, the Maesteri of the Descant, and her lessons in magic and music theory are a welcome change of pace and tone from the political storyline, and give the reader a more comprehensive understanding of what is at stake here, as well as how the magic actually works.  While Belamae is something of the kind, avuncular mentor, commonly found in fantasy, even he has a past and has made mistakes which round out his character and make him more than the magical maestro Dumbledore to Wendra’s Potter.  What is also nice to see is that despite the fact that Wendra has this incredible magical talent, she still needs lessons and practice in order to use it.  Mozart may have been a musical prodigy, but he still needed to learn how to read and write sheet music.  Wendra demonstrates time and again over the course of the story that she has raw power, but like the Sheason storyline and the themes of the political plot, her story asks questions about how, why, and when power should be wielded.  It asks the reader to consider the interaction of personal judgement, societal benefit, concepts of right and wrong.  It asks about intentions.  Orullian isn’t afraid to show his characters making mistakes, or to show heroes doing something morally questionable, just as he isn’t afraid of showing us the ramifications of this, the personal and wider cost, but he also ensures that all these aspects resonate and echo with one another.  There is a underlying tone and theme to the entire novel and this complexity and depth adds a significant richness to the entire endeavour.

Sutter and Mira probably have the least imaginative storyline presented, and one that feels more like a minor thread to the main political story.  In effect it is a fantasy travelogue to secure allies that visits two locales that may seem a bit familiar to fantasy fans.  The peaceful, hidden garden-like home of the Laeodalin (who are definitely not Elves because they don’t have pointy ears) and Ir-Caul, the home of the Smith King (who is definitely not a Dwarven king obsessed with being a blacksmith because he is tall).  But even here Orullian ensures that there are personal motivations and ramifications for their actions, and gives their scenes a sense of intimacy and truth.  Mira and Sutter have a chance to start to develop on their own, away from the burden of Tahn’s storyline, and away from the more commanding presence of Vendanj.  Of the two, Sutter gets more time to develop as a character while Mira still has things happen to her.  On a minor note, I found the incidents in Ir-Caul to be a little straining of incredulity and smacking of narrative convenience.  Some of that is expected in fantasy writing, and to be honest, occurs in lots of other books, fantasy or otherwise.  I am not going to castigate an author for the same sin that so many others are equally, if not more, guilty of, but it was still a little annoying that the entire conspiracy unravelling hinged on happenstance, incredible strokes of luck, unlooked for information from random characters, and a slightly trite romance story.  But, it was still an engaging story and it kept me reading.

The last major plot thread belongs to Tahn himself.  On the one hand I admire Orullian’s choice to place Tahn on a quest not to defeat evil, nor find a weapon to destroy the invading army, but to find a way to stop the war from even starting.  So rather than trying to defeat the enemy, Tahn seeks a way to stop them becoming an enemy.  I also admire that this ‘quest’ occurs in Aubade Grove, the fantasy equivalent of MIT and Harvard.  That’s right ladies and gents, Tahn goes to university to essentially research and give a PhD defence to a bunch of academics who may or may not have been infiltrated by agents of the Quiet.  It is a bold decision and was very interesting, but, unfortunately I am perhaps a little prejudiced about this storyline because of my background in academia.  This is no fault of Orillian’s, but knowing what academics are like, and understanding the process of a PhD viva made Tahn’s plan of action seem ludicrous in my eyes.  Plus, his new found aptitude for physics, mathematics, astronomy, rhetoric, and philosophy, while explained, just stretched my suspension of disbelief too far.  Despite this, it is an engaging storyline and illustrates just how full and deep the world of the story is.  Orullian links the magic with science and expresses it in a fairly convincing way.

All in all, Trial of Intentions is a great book.  It has everything that fans of fantasy clamour for, and some things they didn’t know they wanted.  If you like epic fantasy, or quest fantasy, if you like fallible heroes and interesting villains, then this book is worth a read.  I know that I will be anxiously awaiting the next book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: The Unremembered (Author’s Definitive Edition) by Peter Orullian

 

The Unremembered

 

 

Review: The Unremembered (Author’s Definitive Edition) by Peter Orullian
Book One of The Vault of Heaven Trilogy

 

[Edit Note: Having just read the second book I am really glad I stuck with this series.  So while the review below is fairly negative, Book 2 Trial of Intentions is by far the better book, and the promise in this series finds fruit in the second volume.]

 

Short Version:  A solid epic fantasy that hits all the right notes, but perhaps in a slightly too familiar tune.  It might not blow you away, but it does promise a much deeper and rewarding story in subsequent volumes now that the foundations have been laid and the author feels freer to explore the world he has built.

 

Longer Review:  The publishing history of Peter Orullian’s first volume of the Vault of Heaven trilogy is a fascinating story in and of itself, one that resulted in a new version of the first book being released that is significantly shorter and quite different from the original release.  As this is the author’s preferred edition, the latest edition, and the one that now serves as the first book of a trilogy, the review below is of it and not the original publication.

 

Fans and authors walk a tightrope when it comes to epic fantasy.  As fans we want more of the same, only different.  Like the Lord of the Rings, only different.  Like The Shannara Chronicles, only altered.  Like the Wheel of Time, but new.  Familiar enough that they feed the same appetite, but different enough that they don’t feel like carbon copies.  But we also complain loudly when authors aren’t original enough, aren’t innovative enough, and conversely, when they are too innovative, too original.  Authors want to produce recognisable fantasy epics but ones that are unique.  They want their stories to cater to the tastes of the fans, but serve them something they haven’t had before.  There are formulas, tropes, conventions (not the comic-con kind), and stereotypes, and an uneasy, tacit agreement that some should be used, others subverted, and that, in the end, the whole should be a new dish made out of familiar ingredients.  I say all this, because in almost every fantasy epic there are recognisable and familiar aspects.  Those that deviate too far from the beaten path often lose the reader.  Those that stay beholden to established patterns become predictable and not particularly entertaining.  What complicates this further is when the story being told in a volume is a book one, a first step into a new world, the opening of a narrative that is to be at least three volumes long.  Judging a play by its opening act can be a mistake.  Judging a mystery novel by its opening chapters robs the reader of the conclusion.  But in those instances, the whole is present there in one sitting.  For fantasy trilogies, the whole story, spanning three volumes might be thousands of pages long.

 

So what has this to do with Orullian’s The Unremembered?  Quite a lot it turns out.

 

I don’t set a lot of stock in plot summaries because, by their very nature, they distil the story down into a few lines bereft of context, flavour or character, and are bland generalisations of what you find in a book.  But they do give you an idea, however vague, of what you are about to read.  So, with my provisos in place that this is not truly representative of what is actually delivered in the book…

 

A brief summary of the plot will have fantasy fans groaning as it appears as stereotypical and unoriginal as you can get.  A young boy with a special magical gift (in this case with a bow), on a journey with a magical and wise man, accompanied by a close friend to provide occasional comic relief, a warrior woman, a sister with a magical ability with song, and an apprentice warrior scholar.  Ok so the last one might look a little out of place.  They are on a quest to journey to a mystical place in an effort to save the world from a mystical evil.  A dread magical evil that had previously been banished from the land, but the barrier holding the evil back is failing.

 

So on the face of it there is little here to suggest that Orullian’s book is anything but ‘unremembered’, as off-hand I can think of several series that have very similar plots and remember them quite well.  The over-arching story of The Unremembered is very familiar and well-trodden.  Although it should be pointed out that it is well rendered, well told and interesting, but the story itself seems like the foundation work for a bigger story, a larger story, and, at the end of the day, a much more interesting story.  As I read I kept waiting for the world to drop away as some amazing plot development sprang into the fore, but that never materialised.  There are hints of this grander narrative, the tantalising glimpses of a rich history that will be developed in the future, flashes of plot points that look dead set to blossom into a rich, deeper and more original tale in future instalments, but as it stands, The Unremembered is a solid foundational epic fantasy that does all the plodding groundwork of laying out the bones with none of the real pizazz as it relentlessly pushes the characters through the plot.

 

But well drawn characters can make even the most well established stories come to life.  Yet, unfortunately, once again, while the groundwork appears to have been laid for all the characters to become much more interesting in the next book, this volume fails to give them the necessary moments to shine and stand out.

 

Tahn (a name that autocorrect loves to change to Than) is the typical, slightly naïve youth with a mysterious past, mysterious power, and mysterious destiny.  All very mysterious.  As the central protagonist there are strong shades of every other young, slightly callow, boy-destined-to-be-great character from fantasy.  But the story ends just as he experiences something that might actually change him into someone much more engaging and unique.  This is not entirely unforeseeable as the story focuses on Tahn’s journey toward the rite of passage that will make him a man.  He is not badly written, he is not overly annoying, he is just not fully developed here.  He is the bare bones of the character he will become, the opening refrain that introduces the symphony.  Adding to this lack of development is the significant effort expended by the other characters, and by the author, to keep Tahn unsullied as a character, to keep him pure and prepare him for the magical judgement.  But, as a result, the muck and grime that gets under the fingernails of great characters is simply missing here.  He never gets the folds and careworn creases that make the character feel real.  There is so much potential to his character that this story never quite gets to, and yet… and yet… there is a strong promise that the story and his character will explode with the next volume.

 

Vendanj, the Sheason (wizard monk) is almost the typical grumpy wiseman leading the quest group.  He utilises the Will (similar to the Force from Star Wars if I am brutally honest, or The Will and the Word from Eddings’ Belgariad) but he is at least a great deal more pragmatic and dangerous seeming than many of his epic predecessors and peers.  By the end of the story we have been granted glimpses of his interesting backstory and of the wider conflict he is part of, as well as moments of depth and complexity to his character.  But in terms of development, much of his time is spent forwarding the plot to the next stop in the quest journey, pushing focus onto Than as the most important person in the universe,  and being slightly mysterious for the sake of being mysterious.  It is not all bad though, the cost of wielding the Will appears to be pretty high and despite the narratively convenient moments of respite from attack, it appears that future Vendanj may have a significant bill to pay concerning his use of power.  Also his conflict with the political forces of the world as well as the magical ones, and the schism forming in his own religion suggest that Vendanj’s story will grow in originality and complexity.  He has the potential to be a great addition to the pantheon of guiding mentor figures of fantasy as he has feet of clay, and there are hints of more than superficial brusqueness and irritability to his portrayal.  But the reader isn’t given the opportunity to truly experience his unique flaws and we have yet to bear witness to the cost of his actions, all that is yet to come.

 

Wendra is Tahn’s sister, and by far the most interesting of the assembled quest-party.  Admittedly she has a rape and lost child backstory that grates the teeth a little, and her arc in the book involves her being captured, but she has definite character and strength of will.  She is no damsel in distress, and, while the kidnapping plot is a little stale by this point, Wendra never feels like a helpless victim waiting to be rescued.  Her ability to shape song into magical effects, while still in its infancy in this volume, is one of the high notes of Orullian’s book.  Magical music and singing is hardly original in fantasy stories, but Orullian imbues it with a complex vibrancy that makes it believable and really brings it to life.  To borrow a term from the book, he imbues it with resonance.  One of the major strengths to Orullian’s writing here is his use of this magic system, and affinity with how music is magical and powerful.  While only the first few notes of this system are played out on the page, it does promise to be a fascinating and powerful aspect of future books.  Yet, returning to Wendra, due to the nature of the story focusing on Tahn’s journey, she is given pretty short shrift here, even if the ending once again promises a lot more from Wendra in the books to come.  But all the seeds are there for her to really grow and become a dominating figure of the larger story as her power, will and character rival her personal tragedies and losses.  Of all the characters she seems to have the most potential to be realised, and, given the importance of song to the magic system and to the world, as well as Wendra’s ability, she will undoubtedly have a much more important role in the later books.

 

Mira, a Far, one of the magical races of the world, is a warrior who will die at the edge of maturity (which seems to be around 18 or 20) like all the members of her semi-magical race.  Blessed with supernatural quickness and apparently no need to sleep, Mira is the warrior protector of the group.  She is knowledgeable about the magical threat the world faces, but isn’t really forthcoming about her mysterious race, the magical backstory, or the strange history of the world despite the fact that it would seem to be useful information for the group.  While she has a number of action scenes her main purpose in the story seems to be to serve as Tahn’s first crush and to dispatch the occasional enemy.  But, as I seem to keep saying for each of these characters, the ending of the book should have significant and far reaching ramifications for Mira that will make her a great deal more interesting and rounded as a character in later volumes, rather than simply acting as an alluring, yet aloof love interest for the hero.

 

The Sheason Vendanj is aided by the novice Sodalist, Braethen.  If the Sheason are magical warrior monks who fight demons, the Sodalists appear to be learned warrior monks who use swords to fight demons.  Yeah, I am not really sure what the relationship between the two orders is even after reading the book.  But Vendanj uses magic, Braethen uses a sword (albeit a magical one).  Again, despite this being a fairly lengthy book, there never seemed to be time to delve into Braethen’s character.  Sure we are told his backstory a couple of times, but we never get the sense of how this shaped him, how his background made him who he is and helped him choose this path.  In part because we have no context for the choice.  His father was an Author and Braethen disappointed him by becoming a Sodalist, and his major accomplishment in the novel is finding a necessary passage in a book he once read when his father was training him as an Author.  Nope, still don’t get why him being a Sodalist is important or what it even means.  And yet, oh how this is getting repetitive, the strange sword, the mystery of what Sodalists are and his burgeoning partnership with Vendanj promise that he could become a great deal more interesting in book two.

 

Sutter, Tahn’s best friend from home, comes from humble beginnings, provides occasional comic-relief, but seems more to be there to ground Tahn and be a supportive sounding board for him rather than to be a character in his own right or the hero of his own story.  Once again, a development late in the story leads to Sutter becoming a great deal more interesting, but the investigation of that development seems destined for later instalments.  This feeling of being under-used and unnecessary to this particular part of the story is also true of the young boy, Penit, the stereotypical ‘young rogue’ who was a player in a travelling troupe of actors but whose family were killed.  Penit is necessary for part of Wendra’s story more than anything else, and, despite some nice moments, seems wasted in the novel.  In fact, he becomes more an object than a character as the novel progresses.  In what is now seeming a haunting refrain, the end of the novel does promise interesting developments for Penit in the sequels and his character could suddenly become a lot more interesting and important.

 

The late addition to the group is Grant, an exiled traitor and former special soldier who takes in abandoned children in a wasteland, training some and placing others with surrogate families.  Of all the characters, Grant feels the most rounded.  His backstory is explored over the course of the story from a couple of different perspectives, adding detail and nuance that is missing from the other characters’ histories.  But, perhaps more importantly, the reader gets to see some of the ramifications of his history, and how it has shaped him and his world view.  He is not the usual stereotype of grizzled veteran that one might expect to see in such a traditional quest group line up, as there seems to be a real sense of identity to his character that is a little lacking in the others.

 

As to be expected there are a few other characters who come into play and although each could possibly be developed further, the same problem seems to exist with all of them.  In this story they exist as embryonic characters who have not had the chance to fully develop independent of their role in the plot.  They are tools of the narrative, plot functions, story roles given lines.  Much of this is due to Orullian pushing plot and story at the expense of letting the characters live through the experience and trusting the reader to be interested in them and not just the events.  But through it all, his writing demonstrates that he has a strong conception of who these people are and he clearly has plans to reveal more about them and their struggles.

 

Despite these complaints, there is real promise in this story, and there are definite signs that further instalments will be better.  For a start, the pieces have been laid in this book for political turmoil pitting a powerful, quasi-military order against the main civilian government.  There is a suggestion of lots of political intrigue, manoeuvring, and shenanigans to come as the self-appointed guardians of right, The League of Civility, are brought by this book into almost direct conflict with the Regent of Recityv, the Sheason order, and, of course, our heroes.  Additionally, while the magical menace of this particular volume seems to use pawns in the form of Orc and Ringwraith analogues, revelations at the end promise a greater diversity of foe, and a more complicated rationale for their attempted conquest and destruction of the human lands.  By promising us a war to come on two fronts, one mundane and one magical, Orullian is really raising the stakes and complexity for the later volumes’ story, and therefore, while some of what has occurred in The Unremembered seems well-worn and uninspired it appears that Orullian is using those very aspects as the building blocks for a much greater narrative.

 

Many of the criticisms I have raised here are a harsh judgement centred around a single, central flaw of the book, and that is an earnest and focused dedication to telling the story rather than showing it.  Despite this, there are many moments when it is clear that Orullian has the talent and ability to deliver something greater than the sum of its parts, and some of his writing really sings.  But, as a whole, The Unremembered is too busy rushing through plot to let the natural story evolve.  If this is taken as the opening act of a play it forms the solid basis for subsequent acts, even if it doesn’t quite deliver on its own.