Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Vault of Heaven #1
Publisher: Tor Books (April 7, 2015)
Length: 480 pages
My Rating: 4 stars
The Unremembered is an epic fantasy which, unfortunately, lives up to its title since many fans do not even know it exists. Something that is a shame, because Peter Orullian’s masterful tale is worthy of inclusion into any discussion of the best epic fantasy series out there. This mesmerizing story of a world split in two by a gods’ created magical Veil written in the tradition of such classic fantasy sagas as The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. And I have to admit that I was one of those readers who disregarded this saga for many years. But, now, I have experienced this vivid, lyrical narrative and am sold on the inherent grandness of Mr. Orullian’s fantasy vision.
Beginning simply, The Unremembered gives readers a glimpse of an ancient past. A time of legend when the creator gods still walk the world yet are determined to abandon it to a harsh fate. But one of their servants will not stand by idle while evil triumphs, and he passionate pleas for a final boon from the creators: A way to ward off the forces of the fallen god. And due to the singing of a bereaved woman to her dead loved ones, the heart of a god is softened, the Song of Suffering born; this magical song a way for the Veil, which holds back the creatures of Quietus, to be forever renewed and strengthened.
Skipping ahead millenniums, the Veil still holds . . . barely. The world having experienced several major invasions by the Velle (the monsters shut behind the Veil), but those struggles long in the past, more legend than reality. And now the people have moved forward, evolved, changed. The creator gods scoffed at as myths. The Veil a physical part of the world, one which is viewed as eternal in its nature. The Song of Suffering a superstitious bit of nonsense. Even the wielders of this world’s “magic” are barely tolerated; the Sheason portrayed as parasites on society, their only use to trick superstitious fools into providing them with an easy living. All of these progressive ideas touted and enforced by the League of Civility, which is seen as the torchbearers for mankind’s continued trek toward enlightenment.
Born into this societal turmoil (but having been sheltered from most of it due to their rural home), Tahn, Wendra, Sutter, and Braethen find themselves far from home, following along behind a Sheason named Vendanj. This mysterious stranger having convinced our young quartet to join his damn fool crusade. Velle dodging their every turn. Fate tearing asunder all their plans, as they are slowly forced apart yet struggle to remain together. The end of the journey a place called Tillinghast, where Tahn will be asked to face his life choices and attempt to survive!
Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? A little reminiscent of other series without a doubt, and it goes without saying (though it appears I’m going to say it anyway) that this novel is in the vein of those familiar fantasy tales of the past with classic tropes: the farm boy, the mysterious stranger, the coming-of-age quest, and the god-like villain — to name only a few. And if you hate that you will probably not enjoy The Unremembered. On the other hand, if you don’t instantly despise these type of tropes, you will quickly find that Peter Orullian uses them to craft an engrossing tale inhabited by developed characters, emotional stories, and as fine a magical system as any seen outside of a Brandon Sanderson novel. All of it playing out upon a well crafted world which radiates immense age, deep history, and epic secrets yet untold.
The characters were probably the biggest surprise for me personally. Beginning as familiar faces, Tahn, Wendra, Sutter, Braethen, Vendanj, and several others soon began to develop into unique individuals, endowed with their own problems, hopes, fears, and dreams for tomorrow. Love for family and friends an important theme in all their minds. And while none of them completely broke out of their familiar mold, they did turn into people whom I empathized with and wanted to follow along behind on their journey.
I also have to admit quickly becoming enamored of Peter Orullian’s writing. His silky smooth style was clear, concise yet filled with a lyrical quality. Every paragraph a succinct, descriptive epiphany clearly illuminating the scene and the action transpiring. His tendency to insert small tidbits of information regarding the people, places, and history a delight taking me back to the way J.R.R. Tolkien made Middle Earth come alive for me.
But The Unremembered did have some issues.
With this new edition, Peter Orullian throws readers directly into the action — no introduction to the characters or revelations of how they come together as a group. For good or bad, they are already set out on an epic journey, beset by enemies as well as carrying around baggage for their past. This circumstance requiring the reader to absorb every morsel of information they can quickly to understand what the hell is going on. Nothing wrong with this approach. Many epics use the same sink-or-swim opening. Here, though, the pacing was too fast at the beginning, too much being thrown at you without any context in which to put the info. The net experience nearly causing me to give up on this novel. And when this initial cram session ended, the middle portion of the story slowed down quite suddenly, spending massive amounts of time on plot lines which apparently went nowhere. Thankfully, the narrative finally found its rhythm in the last third, mixing in the perfect amounts of action, lore, magic, surprises, and foreshadowing to make it all worthwhile.
I’d also feel remiss if I didn’t point out that there is no real explanation given for the Velle always showing up at the exact right time and place to find our heroes and cause them problems. In Lord of the Rings, the Ringwraiths were drawn to the ring, which, at least, gave some plausibility to them always being on Frodo’s tail. Here, though, there isn’t any element like that to make the Velle’s appearances plausible, which wasn’t a huge issue the first or second time they appear out of nowhere, but eventually it moved from head-scratching to annoying.
Whether a reader ultimately enjoys The Unremembered Author’s Definitive Edition mostly has to do with what they are looking for in their fantasy. We all have our preferred “type” of fantasy after all, but everyone also loves to discover new flavors for their reading (whether that is grimdark, urban, epic, or some other), and in this day and age where Game of Thrones is the face of fantasy, I can see many people finding Peter Orullian’s more modern and mature version of traditional epic fantasy to be exactly the change of pace novel they were looking for. Certainly, The Unremembered harkens back to a simpler era in the genre when subtle twists on familiar tropes were applauded, epic quests were enjoyed, and naive farm boys were preferred over sociopath antiheroes, yet that might be exactly what some readers (myself included) find so appealing about it.