The Unremembered review

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Unremembered is the debut novel of author Peter Orullian and the start of a series called The Vault of Heaven. Tor has bought the first three books and the series should span around six to eight novels. It has been a long time since a fantasy debut was hyped that much. Along with Tor marketing plans, Peter featured on his website a beautiful interactive map, webisodes featuring characters from the book and more contents. The author is also well known for a series of interviews with the big names in epic fantasy. Did it live up to the hype?

Tahn is making a living in the secluded Hollows for himself and his sister Wendra while hunting in the forest. His best friend, Sutter, is a root digger dreaming of the outside world. When a Velle, out of the Bourne comes after them, the three of them and Braethen, the son of an author learning the ways of the Sodalists, have to flee their homes. Their succor will come in the form of a mythical Sheason, a renderer and his acolyte, a Far. Vendanj and Mira will lead them toward Recityv, where a Convocation of Seats was called for all the rulers of the world to unite under the banner of mankind for the sake of their fate against the Quiet stirring in the North. In their travels they will be trained and given just the necessary information to make choices both for their lives and those of all things living.

A prologue starring world building gods, a young hunter and his friend hidden in a backwater town, a veil splitting the world between the humans and the quietgivens, zealot soldiers condemning magic users and trying the "cleanse the world". If I would stop at that, you would probably say that this looks like a generic fantasy novel with most of the usual tropes included, more so in the case of a coming of age story. So then, what would make this kind of book stand out from the rest of the crowd? The answer would include an original magic system, a surprising and imaginative story, memorable unique characters or an unconventional world building. Well for me, The Unremembered succeeded in some of these aspects but failed in others.

Peter created a world full of melancholy where historically, one sacrifice seems to be among the most consecrated of virtues. That's quite understandable when you look at the creation and abandonment of this world. The humans filling most of it always had to pay the ultimate price to keep the Quiet away, lock-up behind a fallible veil. However their choices lead them to an age where the past is often forgotten. If you add to that background the different races, the unusual landscape and all the tweaked characteristics of an epic fantasy world where magic is fading, you get a signature. Peter's signature is not completely original but it's now undeniably distinguishable or I think it will become so. There's a lot of work behind it and although it's well done in some aspects, in others it feels too familiar.

The author also has a musical background that influenced his world building. Music or more specifically chant is as much an important part of the novel as the magic system. We don't really know if they are linked together and although the former seems intriguing, it's not fully developed in that first opus aside from Wendra's storyline. As for magic, we learn about it throughout the tale. However, even though it feels like it's nicely integrated into the world, the explications surrounding it usually come as info dump between the characters. The same can be said about the story of the world, or I should say the discovery of it by the young protagonists fleeing their homeland. It's natural when you try to teach youngster during a flight from a threat to stop at times to educate and train them but it's kind of hard on the pace of the book and slightly redundant.

Hopefully, the narrative, which is set mostly in the third person mode, is paused at key moments, saving dragging moments from becoming tedious. The separation of the main group allows the author to create a compelling way of urging us toward the next chapter concentrated around a specific character. That element is softened by the two third of the book but since the build-up is done, the recounting of tale itself became sufficient. Peter's prose is clear and descriptive with a distinctive vocabulary for the usual fantasy terms. One problem I had with it is the dialogues between the young men, Tahn and Sutter. They are not usually on par with the rest of the conversations. They often try to be funny to lessen the impact of what they are living but it falls flat and the use of surnames when they talk to each other feels forced.

As a whole, the character development is sufficient, mostly so for the rest of the cast. Even Wendra, which I found kind of annoying at first, became a great asset to the narrative. She has quite an emotional journey and doesn't betray herself. Penit, a young performer who became her companion adds a nice fresh touch to the story. The harsh and driven Sheason is typical but still, his devotion is admirable. Mira, his Far helper comes from an interesting race where they die at a young age. And then, there's a morally dubious highwayman named Jastail and Grant the exile, who I won't spoil but comes as a nice surprise. These protagonists could be slightly more complex but then we have yet more to discover about them.

As I mentioned, some elements of this story are pretty generic. If you're a fan of the Wheel of Time (or would have liked a longer Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone) and you don't mind picking up a new long spanning series you should find satisfaction here. I felt some moments of "Hum... déjà vu... it looks kind of like..." but don't worry, there are elements of surprise enough, making it feel original every so often, like the whole story of Grant. However, as Tahn experienced himself, Vendanj, the Sheason, is like a Gandalf who wouldn't explain anything at first to Frodon. Can be frustrating at times and not only for the boy but for the reader as well. The blind fate from the boy was a little disconcerting for me.

All in all, I think this is the start of a promising but not groundbreaking new saga. If the author can capitalize on his richly created world, go farther in character development and avoid the trap of opening too many story threads (a la Jordan), the Vaults of Heaven could very well be remembered. For now, the table is set and many secrets are still waiting to be unveiled.

Technically, I could not praise enough the beautiful artwork by one of your host favorite fantasy artist and my "Bests of 2010" covers winner Kekai Kotaki. That's one novel you'll not want to put on the side in your library. The map of the East of Aeshau Vaal is gorgeous but no glossary can be found in the book. The paperback edition stands at 669 pages.

The Unremembered review score :

Characterization............. 7 /10
World building............... 9 / 10
Magic system................. 8 /10
Story.............................. 7 / 10
Writing........................... 7.5 / 10

Overall (not an average) 7.5 / 10


Peter Orullian page


Bryce L. said...

I think we're on the same page here. Does not quite live up to the hype, but not bad either. I don't know if a lot of people will be sold on the fact that it has the ability to be really good at some point. I'm glad I read it though.

Phil said...

Yes I've read your review too and what some other bloggers think and there seems to be a consensus.

I have faith that Peter can come up with something greater in the future.

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