Genre: Fantasy — Grimdark
Series: Heart of the World #1
Publisher: Tor Books (January 18, 2011)
Author Information: Website
Length: 388 pages
My Rating: 4 stars
Farlanderis the beginning of series which is seriously underappreciated. This initial installment a pleasant surprise, one which thrilled me with a war-torn world, secretive assassins, power-mad religious zealots, and a conclusion which took me completely by surprise.
The Heart of the World is a land torn apart by war. The nihilistic empire and religion of the Holy Empire of Mann determined to conquer the known world and force their dark faith upon everyone. Only the Free Ports holding back the seemingly unstoppable tide of the Holy Matriarch Saseen’s fanatical armies and diabolic agents, sarcastically dubbed the Diplomats.
The most precarious of the Free Ports is the island of Khos, where the city of Bar-Khos has been under attack for years. The causeway which links the island to the southern continent now an enemy camp filled with Mannian armies determined to break through the might walls of Bar-Khos and put everyone to death; the sky around filled with constant skirmishes between Khosian and Mannian airships; and the sea a war of attrition, as the Khosians fight to keep a Mannian blockade from strangling them into submission.
Trapped in the besieged city is a young, desperate, and hungry teenager named Nico. His quest for money to survive one more day in the street leading him to a chance encounter with a foreigner named Ash, whose unexpected kindness carries our unsuspecting youth into a life as one of the feared Roshun: Zen-like monk assassins, feared the world over for their vendetta killings.
Quickly, our newest Roshun must undergo his training, deal with rival apprentices, and seek to win over Ash, who is a silent and, at times, stern master. But soon a Roshun vendetta interrupts Nico’s acclimatization; his master and the son of the Holy Matriarch Saseen on a collision course, as a Roshun vendetta takes Nico and Ash to the holy city of Mann itself. Death, destruction, and unexpected betrayal soon splattering the pages of Farlander with blood!
Without a doubt, the biggest strength of Farlander is the amazing world Col Buchanan has dreamed up. Gunpowder. Airships. Exotic drugs. Darwinian fanatics. Mysterious monk assassins. The setting of this novel tantalizingly unique, amazingly expansive, yet familiar enough to fantasy fans that it will feel comfortable, draw you in, take hold of your imagination, and demand that you keep reading to uncover all the answers to the numerous questions which exist about this place. It really is a genre blender done right.
As for the characters, I have to admit they are a mixed bag really. Nico is your familiar young apprentice who has stumbled into a situation far above his head; his training (thankfully brief) exhibiting the same patterns readers will have experienced many times over. And the “bad guys” from the Empire of Mann are so damn evil to be near comical in their adherence to a Darwinian mantra taken to the absolute extremes. Thankfully, though, Ash, Nico’s Roshun master, quickly grows out of the familiar fantasy caricature of an over-the-hill-master-training-the-next-generation and evolves into a complex character whom readers will want to know more about. And the minor character Che comes out of nowhere to become instantly fascinating; his story unexpected, entertaining, and demanding of more page time (which it does get in book two). So, sure there are some familiar character tropes here, but Col Buchanan doesn’t limit himself to staying in the normal patterns and mixes in several unique persons who are quite fascinating as they begin to evolve.
The story itself is told through multiple point-of-view characters; the author shifting from one story line to another. These shifts always appropriate, never jarring or distracting. And for the most part, Col Buchanan does a good job making each plot relevant to this books story arc while foreshadowing things to come in future books, which actually makes certain sections much more interesting as you know they will be important later on.
The only issue I have with the novel is the pacing. Col Buchanan having difficulty finding the right narrative speed and maintaining it. Too many times the story gets tangled up in seemingly unnecessary descriptions and internal monologue, and while I’m perfectly okay with intricate details when necessary, there were moments I felt as if the author was merely filling time before the next bit of excitement. On the other hand, there were also sections of the book where important events transpire in a few short paragraphs, which just felt wrong; I mean, I’m all for getting to the point in a narrative, but it really seemed like some important and some really cool moments were lost in an attempt to hurry up and get to the conclusion. All of which means this failure to settle on a pace and maintain it was bothersome at times.
Even with this one issue, Farlander was a great read and a fascinating beginning to the Heart of the World series. The tantalizing world, interesting characters, and generally fast paced narrative made this novel one of my favorite reads of the year, so good in fact that it led me to the next book and the next until I’m currently about to begin book four of this ever evolving and always entertaining series. It really is an underappreciated series which I would encourage everyone to give a try!