Monday, December 12, 2016

Book Review: Silas of Erithia

The world of Elyonia (at least the portion the reader sees) is divided into two races.  Dartarians who can wield the powers of the four elements. And Alineans who, well, cannot. Though these people have periods of co-existence, xenophobia and fear leads to frequent warfare between them, with both sides rising to power at various times in history. When Silas of Erithia opens, the Dartarian King Eldon has led his people to completely dominate the Alineans, turning them into second-class citizens who can be executed for the merest slight. Silas himself is a young Alinean man just trying to survive along with his family when a minor theft he committed years ago leads to him being drawn into the bigger battle that is quickly tearing his land to pieces.

The chapters are told from multiple perspectives from both Alinean and Dartarian characters. Even the villain, King Eldon, gets a few chapters, and while I can’t say they make him any more sympathetic- he still comes off as an arrogant and cruel genocidal tyrant- it is actually interesting to see that his convictions about his people’s superiority seem to have squeezed out any drop of kindness in him.

The titular Silas is a rather passive protagonist, particularly when contrasted with the merchant Jervis, or Sabina, a “celebrity” of sorts among the people of Elyonia. Things generally happen to Silas rather than him taking any direct action to his fate beyond a self-sacrifice he makes late in the book. However, revelations near the end of the novel indicate that there is much more to Silas than we have realized, and he will become a more active force in the shaping of his world in future books.

The story of Jervis the merchant is gripping, though. He immediately comes off as a pretty decent guy (primarily because his introduction shows him buying slaves from an underground market to rescue them from their fate). You very much want to see him escape the thugs pursuing him through the underground ruins of the old Elyonian capital.

Sabina the young Dartarian champion is also interesting. Like Jervis she has a kind heart, and is horrified when she sees the atrocities being committed against the Alineans. She does come off as a bit naive at times, though this may be due to her sheltered upbringing among the higher classes of Dartarians. After all, how many well-off people in our own modern culture would be shocked and mortified at the severity with which their seemingly benevolent culture mistreats those who are branded Other.

Like many epic fantasies, Silas of Erithia opens with a detailed description of the world and how it differs from our own. While these sorts of deep background exposition- what are sometimes pejoratively call “info dumps”- may be off-putting to some readers, I rather enjoyed it. It helped me get a deeper sense of the world that Silas and his friends inhabit.

The narration has a distinct “high fantasy” flavor to it reminiscent of E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros or the stylized tone used by Fritz Leiber for his tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, or even Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. Some might find that this tone makes it tougher to engage with the characters, particularly in action scenes. Nevertheless, once you get used to the style it does add to the feeling that you are reading about another world.

The one major critique I have is that book drops a number of exotic animal names without any description or clue as to what these creatures look like. What is a darilla? Or a krag? Or a menalpo, a tarpuk, a vlarn, a brym and so on? t may be a minor complaint, but I cannot help feeling like I am missing part of the world-building by not being able to picture these strange beasts. Assuming, of course, that these aren’t just the Elyonian names for familiar Earth beasts.

Overall, though, Silas of Erithia is an engaging fantasy read, particularly if you’re a fan of classic adventure fantasy like the Sword of Shannara or Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance Chronicles.

You can get Silas of Erithia here.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cryptid Culture article

Cryptid Culture is a magazine about, well, cryptids. Unknown animals and beings of all sorts. Their stated goal is to celebrate the world of mysterious and folkloric creatures without bias towards skeptics or believers (though the majority of the articles so far are very much on the believer side).

The latest issue came out last month and features an article by me about the enigmatic deep sea organism Paleodictyon. This critter builds hexagonal structures in the sea floor constructed out of numerous interconnected burrows. While these burrows are well-documented, the animal that actually made them is still unknown. Some researchers think it might be a giant amoeba called a xenophyophore. Others think the builder is some sort of burrowing sponge.

You can get an issue an read the full article here.