The Scroll of Years review

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Scroll of Years is the first Fantasy novel of Chris Willrich. The book is a tale of Gaunt and Bone, his two protagonists for whom he wrote several shorts since the year 2000.  The ex-librarian also wrote short fiction outside of this series.  The book will be out on September 24th and the second one, The Silk Map should be out by May of 2014 (cover and blurb).
Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone are a romantic couple and partners in crime. Persimmon is a poet from a well-to-do family, who found herself looking for adventure, while Imago is a thief in his ninth decade who is double-cursed, and his body has not aged in nearly seventy years. Together, their services and wanderlust have taken them into places better left unseen, and against odds best not spoken about. Now, they find themselves looking to get away, to the edge of the world, with Persimmon pregnant with their child, and the most feared duo of assassins hot on their trail. However, all is never what it seems, and a sordid adventure-complete with magic scrolls, gangs of thieves, and dragons both eastern and western-is at hand.
Take two partners in crime with a conscience (you don't steal from just anybody you know), a fantastical setting and a troublesome and mysterious past and you get a canvas for a series of sword-and-sorcery stories with heists, adventure, magic, weird encounters and romantic mocking.  That's the background of The Scroll of Years. I would recommend to every reader who picks up the book to start with the first Gaunt and Bone short story included with the book, The Thief with Two Deaths. I didn't do it and I think that it gives a great insight into Gaunt and Bone relationship before getting into the specific tale of the book.

The couple's crazy adventure starts with them trying to find a safe shelter for their unborn child (a crucial factor impeding their struggles in creative and challenging forms) and various items of value gathered through the years. That situation is too perfect for wanted murderers of powerful kleptomancers.  Right from the start, the likable duo find themselves facing Night's Auditors and fleeing to a faraway country, Qiangguo, right into an unanticipated conflict. From there on, the book shows action and magic aplenty in a fast paced story written with short chapters and alternating points of view. A true incarnation of sword and sorcery you don't want to miss.

The author was told stories from the Eastern world and he took advantage of it to spice up his narrative with ingredients from these tales. Willrich also borrows freely from diverse elements of the Chinese culture for his world building. This particular world is a colorful extrapolation of the arts (mostly calligraphy), mythology, spirituality, martial skills and political structure of old Chinese dynasties. I was drawn in effortlessly. Magic and fantastical elements are incorporated into the tapestry (the fantasy elements pop out right at the start) and a more complicated than it seems backdrop is created for the peculiar duo to fight for their future and that of their offspring while using their skills to survive and help those who would give them a hand, be it with an agenda or not.

A skilled roof runner and a rebel poet could become caricatural but Imago Bone and Persimmon Gaunt are more than what they seem. Bone's past, his dedication toward his beloved accomplice and his self-assurance create a concoction of both rigor and easiness, doubtlessly believable, easy to succumb to.  Meanwhile, since they become separated for a good part of the story, Gaunt is coping with late pregnancy and find herself trapped with unlikely companions. She was a less compelling protagonist for me but didn't interfere with my overall satisfaction for the book.

The couple may be the stars and namesake of the series, the author still worked hard in developing gripping and elaborate characters to accompany them or spar against. Nemesis ex-lovers, a precognitive with part of a mirror embedded into his head, the self-portrait of a sage painter, you name it!

Willrich's prose is elegant, stylish and learned. It's not often that this level of skill accompany a sword and sorcery book and a debut at that. The Scroll of Years is a fast, fun and entertaining read, one of the first in the genre I liked this much since Alex Bledsoe's Eddie LaCrosse. It came as a surprise and I recommend it to everyone with a knack for heroism, humor, ingenious devices, twisted dragon lore, poetry, fighting and skin saving while making morally dubious choices.

I still have one thing to add: character naming. I always liked Erikson's Malazan marines names or Joe Abercrombie's titles for his Northern barbarians. Willrich will be added to my list with his gang of bandits including Feng Axe-Big-As-Himself, Muttering Chung or Exceedingly Accurate Wu... but the best: Next-One-A-Boy!

Technically, I can only praise Kerem Beyit for his cover of the book, Pyr Edition.  Gaunt and Bone are painted on the perfect setting and they look both hard-boiled and cartoonish. The paperback edition stands at 270 pages and doesn't include any maps but, as I mentioned, includes the first Gaunt and Bone short story.

The Scroll of Years review rating :

World building
Magic system 

Overall (not an average)


Chris M said...

Sounds interesting.

Persimmon doesn't look very pregnant in that cover though. :P

Phil said...

Hehe good one Chris, missed that one :)

John said...


Thanks for the review.Looking forward to reading this.

You can find more 'Gaunt and Bone' short stories to read online here -

Jeff C said...

I got this in the mail this week and the references to romance put me off. But based on your review, I might have to give it another look.

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