The next book I’m reviewing in Alan Spade’s The Breath of Aoles, the first book in the Ardalia trilogy. The genre is fantasy, although the other books of the trilogy may expand the world and events to something more like epic or high fantasy. It takes place in a fantasy world of impressive ambition. Most fantasy authors use real-world fauna and flora interspersed with more fantastic and mythological creatures, but in this book every plant and animal was an invention of the author. There was none of the humans and dwarves and elves that we often in fantasy either. The (((SPOILERS IN THIS AND THE NEXT PARAGRAPH)))main character is of a four-fingered three-nostriled species called hevelens, which share their world (which has two moons) with the rock-like krongos race and the telephathic malians.
Our protagonist, Pelmen, is a teenage hevelen who lives a miserable life in the city of Durepeaux, working in his demanding and controlling father’s tannery. When Pelmen runs away, a misadventure with fire-casting sorcerers called crimson shamans brings him back to his city him to live with his bitter old uncle Xuven while attempting to learn the art of hunting. When Pelmen’s friend Teleg disappears under similar circumstances, Pelmen and Xuven assume that he has been kidnapped by crimson shamans as Pelmen nearly was, and they set off on a mission to rescue him. The mission takes them through a variety of places and adventures before they finally reach their destination: a fortress on a volcano, the center of operations for the sinister crimson shamans. (((END SPOILERS)))
If you take this story and you strip away the unique creatures and terrains, it’s a fairly standard journey narrative. We’ve seen protagonists grow and learn over the course of a long journey in hundreds of stories before. Frodo and Samwise do it, Abraham and Sarah do it, Sal Paradise and Dead Moriarty do it, Lolita and Humbert Humbert [*shiver*] do it, it’s very a common theme. This is not necessarily a bad thing. This type of story is popular because it works, as long as it’s written well. This particular book is written well. The mystery and danger of the quest keeps the reader engaged, and the flashiness of the fantastical world keeps the reader interested. It’s a good fantasy novel, unlikely to convert non-fans of the genre but certainly enjoyable for the established devoted.
I do have to remark that the book is slow. There are a handful of exciting bits in the journey, but there is also an awful lot of walking and talking. The author’s creation of unique animals and plants for this book’s world is ambitious, but frequently it was also confusing. When the characters are interacting with their nidepoux and melepeks, their beasts of burden, I don’t know what to visualize. Occasionally descriptions of them would cut off the natural flow of a paragraph, and even with the description I still feel more lost than I would if the characters just uses horses and oxen. There was also a brief romantic arc to the story which seemed, to me at least, out of place. I didn’t think it contributed to the narrative much and overall it didn’t seem very credible. Readers can of course form their own judgments on that.
Overall, I was glad to have read it. I think the novel is a worthwhile contribution to the genre, and the ending left me with enough curiosity that I will probably get the next book in the trilogy (titled Turquoise Water) to see where the adventure goes next.