I’ve started reading David Anthony Durham’s Acacia Part 1: The War with the Mein. Will probably finish it today, but I wanted to post some preliminary thoughts first.
Let me get one thing out of the way first – it’s pretty good. I’d recommend it to all fans of secondary world fantasy series about kings and wars. Which sounds lukewarm, but then they’re generally not my cup of tea overall.
I probably wouldn’t have bothered reading this if it hadn’t been for the post-RaceFail emphasis on recommending BME SF & fantasy authors, but that would’ve been my loss, really. It’s good on the race issues, with actual diversity, sensibly placed skin colours, an explicit statement that they’re all the same people (none of this mucking around with pointy ears or green skin), and both some racial tensions and some resolutions to them. Of course, the cover’s still got a vaguely Celtic white chick in a red dress on it (along with a bunch of LARPers) but you can’t have everything.
It’s got a map in the front, which would be a strike against it if it didn’t already have a title including “Part 1″, the word “War”, and the name of a fantasy race, which renders the map somewhat redundant as a signifier. And yes, we will be visiting everything on it.
The character names are a bit odd in places – King Leodan Akaran, for instance. Which would be fine, if his Chancellor (“born within a few months, and from a family nearly as royal”) wasn’t named Thaddeus Clegg.
Right from the get-go, it’s like being beaten about the head with the infodump stick. We keep getting pages of stuff about history or character background, then someone notices they’ve drifted off into reverie. It’s like he’s heard of “show, don’t tell” and decided that meant “tell them then tell them it’s what a viewpoint character is thinking”. Omniscient narrator is pretending to be invisible.
The narration is – I won’t say dull and lifeless, because it’s not in the slightest, but it’s rather distant, as though he’s putting a glass pane between us and everything. That’s not helped by the way he keeps introducing us to interesting people, building them up for a large role, then zooming out and telling us how they died.
I suspect he’s still finding his pace as a writer, working out what to show us & how, but he’s got a lot of good stuff going for him – there are some unforgettable images in there, and he cares about material culture (what people wear, how they live, how they build) which is always a plus for me.
The plot follows the classic “does what it says on the back of the book, then some more stuff” arc – rebels attack Empire, Empire falls, heirs go into hiding, the counter-rebellion starts up. Nothing the slightest bit unexpected, but he carries it off.