This review of Acacia Book One: The War with the Mein by David Anthony Durham is a first for me, I’m writing a second review of a book I reviewed in the past (June 2007 when this book first published) so it will be interesting for me to tread over ground I’ve previously trod. On to the review, which is more of a reaction than a review actually…
|Cover Art used on ARC |
When Acacia Book One The War with the Mein first published in 2007, it was to a great deal of buzz for a couple of reasons. One, Durham had a Literary-with-a-capital-L pedigree; his fiction had won and / or was nominated for a couple of awards. Two, Durham is a writer of color and Epic Fantasy is a genre dominated, to a large degree, by old white dudes. In other words, on the surface, he was bringing a very unique perspective to a genre that rests heavily on familiar tropes and story elements. Underneath the surface is a superb novel on many levels.
The War with the Mein opens on a kingdom during a gilded age during its waning days, King Leodan is old weakened, but keeps up a façade for his children whom he loves above everything; he wishes them to see only the beauty in the world. When the king is murdered in full view by an ancient enemy, the children soon learn of the truth behind the thin façade their father was projecting. The prosperity of Acacia has been built on the backs of slaves and its own citizens who are addicted to a drug, the mist, the monarchy uses to keep the populace under control.
The king’s plan upon dying was to scatter the children across the world so they could learn about the world outside without the rose tinted glasses afforded them by their station as royalty. Of course, not all goes to plan and eldest daughter Corinn is left behind to be slave and concubine to Hanish Mein, leader of the nation who brought down King Leodan.
Durham tells the novel in three major parts, introduction of the Arkan family, scattering of the Arkan family across the Known World, and their return to claim their birthright as heirs to the throne. The eldest son, Aliver, arrives in an untamed land of Talay where he rises through hard work and challenges to become a mythic hero; youngest son Dariel becomes a privateer/pirate under the name Spratling, and youngest daughter Mena barely survives her journey and finds herself on an island where she’s proclaimed to be the reincarnation of a powerful bird goddess, Maeben. As mentioned, Corinn is left behind and her relationship with Hanish is fascinating to watch unfold as she develops feelings for the man who tore her world asunder.
Of the Epic Fantasy novels I’ve read (and I’ve read quite a few), Durham manages to pull off the myth come to life better than any of them this side of Robert Jordan. He taps into the intersection of the collective unconscious of myth and power of trope to evoke a resonant tale in this first installment of Acacia. Reading the book felt like reading a powerful myth that informed a society.
In my earlier review of the novel, I may have been tad too tough on the book, in terms of Durham’s supposed info-dumps. On second reading, I did not get a sense of that at all and was fully swept up in the tale he was telling.
I also, on this second reading, was able to get a better feel for the structure of the novel. Re-reading it, I realize how similar the first third of the novel; essentially, the set up; is to the setup of many other fantasies. However, just when the reader is lulled into that familiarity; BAM! Durham upends the playing table and lets the story roll down a new path of his own making. On a somewhat more granular level, each chapter is just long enough to consume in relatively brief settings so a sense of reading accomplishment is gained, and with that a great feel of progression in the story is accomplished. By novel’s end, Durham achieves resolution with each of the four siblings, but left me wanting more with the implications of how the story was resolved.
|Full spread of Mass Market Paperback|
I think I’ve made it pretty clear that Epic Fantasy is my favorite branch of Speculative Fiction and when done right, when the familiar elements are imbued with fresh flavors, it is what I like the most. With The War with the Mein, David Anthony Durham has done it all right and launched what looks to be a great fantasy saga. (As of this writing, I'm about 1/3 into the second novel in the trilogy, The Other Lands.) The conflict of different ideologies, rather than black and white good v. evil; the feel of the story as an evolving, living myth (which happens to be the title of the third portion of the novel); ancient powers of sorcery reawakening; monstrous creatures; adventure; etc., all come together so well.
In short, this book was well worth the second read and I highly, highly recommend it.