Sunday, 16 December 2012

Fantasy Review: 'Affirmation' by S J Faerlind

I read Prophecy, the first book in the Lirieias Children series, a few months ago and I enjoyed it although I had some issues, but after that slightly tentative debut this is a much more assured piece of writing. The story picks up exactly where the previous book left off, with the Gryffin split into two camps, Kratyn the rebel taking his supporters elsewhere, and Jurel uniting with the Orryn to attempt to defeat the aggressive Lord Defender, ruler of the plains humans, in the belief that Anarion is the Child of Prophecy.

The first book spent a lot of time introducing the various races of Gryffin, Orryn and humans (and not forgetting the tiny Grovale, who act as servants for the Gryffin), and building the characters, particularly the strangely bonded pair, Anarion the human/Orryn and Teryl the Gryffin. This one hits the ground running, with action almost right from the start, but theres enough information to remind readers of events and characters from the first book. I enjoyed seeing the extraordinarily timid Orryn coming out of their sheltered valleys and undertaking dangerous missions on their own. The author cleverly shows us some fairly familiar human activities, like music-making, dancing and the copious consumption of beer, through bemused Orryn eyes (although surely they have music in Orryn society?). I loved the way they diligently took notes of everything they saw, in a properly scientific manner. The Orryn make a refreshing change from the typical fantasy hero type, who is often brimming with self-confidence, or at least a willingness to swing a sword where necessary. The Orryn, by contrast, are so averse to aggression that they keel over into unconsciousness whenever confronted with it.

The magic system is made clearer in this book, and it turns out to be rather simple, but powerful in an ingenious variety of ways. I very much like the way humans need to power their magic with stones, but the Orryn have an innate ability. This distinction leads to some surprising (although completely logical) differences in their abilities. More specifically, both races have some powers which the other is incapable of. As with most fantasy, magic is used both to spring surprises on the characters, and also to enable them to get out of trouble, but the possibilities are laid out well in advance so that it never feels like a cheat.

I grumbled a bit in my review of the first book that too little was revealed about Sharra (Anarions mother) and the Lord Defender (the villain of the piece). Both omissions are rectified very satisfactorily in this book. The Lord Defender, in particular, steps out of the shadows now and becomes a character in his own right, and although it doesnt entirely make his motivations clearer (but then Ive never understood the desire for global domination, frankly, so maybe thats just me), nevertheless it makes him a more real and rounded person instead of a nebulous bad guy. I rather like his sidekick, Branden, too, who's rather more intelligent than is usual for the villain's henchman.

The ending was something of a surprise, not exactly a let-down, but a relatively low-key moment. But then the whole book is very much about the characters and how they come to adapt to their changed circumstances rather than being a high action affair, so this was very much in keeping with the rest of the book. In fact, the last few chapters, and especially the revelations regarding Jinelle and Bashide, were very moving. It's not an easy task to create non-human characters that resonate with the reader just as much as humans while staying true to their own natures, but this is something the author has achieved magnificently, as well as creating clearly distinct cultures, even amongst the various humans. This book is a huge step up from its predecessor. It's still rather wordy and formal, but that is, after all, part of the Orryn nature, so it's highly appropriate. In the end, it's the characters who stick in my mind - Anarion and Teryl, the enterprising Kaidal and Talla, Shayla, dignified in captivity (and perhaps influencing the Lord Defender in positive ways), and many more. A thoroughly enjoyable read, and a good four stars.

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