Acacia review

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Acacia is David Anthony Durham first fantasy novel. Before writing this book, he released three historical fiction novels. It's the first book of a trilogy and the second novel, The Other Lands, is out since a couple of months. By the way the "The war with the Mein" subtitle is not the name of the series as the second book mentions "The Acacia trilogy". Durham won the 2009 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Acacia is an empire lead by Leodan Akaran. He's a father of four and addicted to the mist, a drug which, with the trade of children to a far away civilization, is at the center of his empire wealth. Aliver is the dutiful heir to the throne, Corinn is the dashing vain princess, Mena is the bright one and Dariel the young dreamer. When their father is murdered by an assassin from the Mein, chamberlains Thaddeus Clegg disperse the children all over the world to protect them. Acacia is then occupied by Hanish Mein the leader of his northern people. 9 years later, Corinn who was recaptured is still at court, Dariel is now Spratling the pirate, Mena is a priestess in Vumu and Aliver is learning hunting and leadership skills with southern tribes. They will strive against the Mein to regain their empire and fulfill their father wishes, rid Acacia of slavery and drugs.

Acacia sits very well within the epic fantasy category. The story is vast in scale, with big empires, vast battlefields and span many years of heroic feats. The world where the protagonists evolve is harsh and sumptuous at the same time. As far as the world building goes, it's not groundbreaking but there are enough original elements to keep it interesting. I liked to discover some different races and beasties. If often felt slightly typical but nevertheless absorbing.

From what the book shows, even with the best of intention, in the end it's more difficult than it seems to change the world. I think that this is the fundamental subject matter of the novel.

The magic system is not explained in details, let's just say that it derives from the word of God. Since all the sorcerers are afraid to use magic because they were cursed by one of their ancestor, its uses are not widespread. It's a basic way to control the power of magic for the author but then, I felt that Durham used this magic almost only as a miraculous escape trick from almost impossible odds. This ancestor also created the Tunish Nevrae, which by putting it simply means that the Mein people are prevented access to eternal slumber in a state between life and death when they are killed or simply die. This is the reason for the mein to conquer Acacia. It's a good way of adding an extra layer to the villains. They are not simply evil bastards.

The pace of Acacia is slow at first and just picks up slightly more speed as the story evolves. The characters spend a lot of time thinking and describing things. The reader is mostly behind the eyes of a different protagonist between each chapter. The four Akaran children are most often used but even the villains have their share of "page time". The characters are not totally good or evil, many of them are on the morally grey range. Thaddeus Clegg, the repentant traitor chancellor, Hanish Mein the conqueror and his love interest Corinn are the best examples. I grew very fond mostly of Leeka Alain (a deposed general) and Spratling the pirate.

Although it feels a little bit too classic at times, Acacia has a complete ending but there's ample space for sequels, many mysteries such as the Lothan Aklun (a far away civilization). By the way, Durham is not afraid to kill critical characters, that's a must in a story like this.

Why should you read this book? If you like empire centered epic saga in the classic genre but with a nice touch of surprising elements, this is for you. If you're simply looking for new authors with great potential, there again, this is for you. The drawback (that was not one for me) could be the long reflections.

Technically, the Doubleday cover for Acacia stands out a little but is not amazing. The hardcover edition of the novel is 592 pages. The unabridged audio book (from Tantor Media) is 29 hours 29 mins and the narration by Dick Hill is simply fantastic.

Acacia review score :

Characterization............. 8 /10
World building............... 7.5 / 10
Magic system................. 7 / 10
Story.............................. 7.5 / 10
Writing........................... 7.5 / 10

Overall (not an average) 7.5 / 10


David Anthony Durham page


Darryl said...

I liked Dick Hill in the audio version but at times he's a bit over the top. Nice range of voices though and even the "African" characters were convincing.

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