REVIEW SUMMARY: Pushing through the cumbersome start to this first book in the Vault of Heaven trilogy rewards the reader with a deep world that the gods have abandoned, and the protection they left behind is failing. A small group tries to rally the world in the face of disbelief that stories of these gods and their protection are real.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The magical veil that keeps the creatures of a rogue god from the rest of the world is weakening, but most of the world doesn’t even remember that the creatures and the veil are real. Tahn, a young bowman, has no memory of most of his life, but he, along with his sister and friend, are on a quest with a Sheason (a warrior-magician who can “render the Will”, the force that all life is made of), a woman of the legendary Far (a race known for speed and weapons handling) and a Sodalist (a warrior-scholar) to determine how to repair the veil, remind the world of its existence and do battle with the creatures behind it.
PROS: Complex world, deep once you get into it. Interesting utilization of song as a weapon. Awash in moral quandaries each of the characters have to face.
CONS: Complex world. Abrupt transition at the beginning of the story had me almost putting the book down; glad I stuck with it. Some dead-end diversions (which could turn up later in the series?). Re-used fantasy ideas.
BOTTOM LINE: Though similar to other fantasy stories (a group on a quest, one member with no memory of who he is, song as magic, and others), the world of The Unremembered has depth and possibility, and enough decision points for the characters to face to make me want to read the next book. And, 300 pages into the 700 page 2nd book (Trial of Intentions) and cruising, it appears that possibility will indeed be realized.
This review is based on the “Author’s Definitive Edition” of The Unremembered.
The opening scene (a “Prelude”) features gods arguing over the fate of a war-torn world, as they prepare to abandon it. A lament sung by a female survivor touches one of them, and he puts magic in that song of suffering, imbuing it with the power to keep evil creations behind a veil.
The story (now in a “Prologue”) quickly jumps to Tahn Junell, who must make a particular chant in order to loosen an arrow from his bow (“I draw with the strength of my arms, but release as the will allows“). This chant prohibits him from stopping a Bar’dyn, a creature from beyond the veil, from taking his sister Wendra’s baby.
The plot then moves to a familiar fantasy story of a group of disparate people on a vague quest. The group includes Tahn, Wedra, Tahn’s friend Sutter, a Sheason (a warrior-mage like group) named Vendaj, a Far girl (a warrior race known for speed, weapons use and endurance) and a Sodalist (who seems to be warriors with book knowledge).
It’s a bit of a rocky start, with a lot of jumping around, and references to characteristics of the world that are undefined and confusing (e.g., the creatures that are being held back by the veil (and sometime breaking through) are called “the Quiet”; I may be slow, cause I didn’t get it for a while). And I have the unfortunate vice of being a map hound…and, even with reading glasses, it looked to me like distances were not making any sense in the group’s travels.
At this point I almost gave up on the book. Life’s too short to have to force your way through a book that is meant to entertain.
And yet…there were intriguing characters with interesting problems and a complex world that was developing and deepening. The main character, Tahn, has forgotten a large part of his past, and is limited by the power of the chant he must says before he uses his bow. The Sheason can use “the Will”, the life-energy of this world, as a weapon at the cost of draining his own life energy. And the concept of the Veil, which is failing (as evidenced by the Bar’dyn from the other side that they encounter) and which would launch a third all-out war, sets up much of the impetus of the plot. Political intrigue is added by introducing a faction bent on modernization, believing that old stories of the Veil, the creatures beyond it and the first two wars are mere fairy tales, and that all who believe in them should be subdued to make way for progress.
The story follows some oft-used tropes: a forgotten past; an unlikely hero who is more than he seems; music as power. But, each unwinds in interesting ways:
“You, Wendra. The instrument you must play is you. It is the first tool, the first instrument. It is a uniquely wondrous symmetry of Forda l’Forza. It is resonance. And I can teach you. But you’ll have to get up off this floor.” He patted his leg. “So, how will you do that, Anais? Tell me , what song will serve your need?” (pg. 107)
The use of music as magic flows through many fantasy books, but this author, in his frequent descriptions of how music affects the soul and life; how the song of lament and suffering empowers the veil; and the light and the dark side of song, builds depth into this study, this part of the world.
There are some divergences in the plot. As a reader I do not mind these so long as they are interesting and add something to move the story or the characters along. At a minimum, these satisfy the first requirement; perhaps they will satisfy the second in further books?
Then Wendra understood. Looking at the pile of items on the table: a mourner’s kerchief, a child’s diary, an author’s quill, a worn doll, a stringless fiddle…Things she’d seen them presenting and discussing in the back room before the game began. These were symbols of loss, of emotional pain, of death, tokens whose voices were the sounds of silence and sorrows, of life’s sacrifice and bereavement.
And somehow these gamblers were the cause or custodians of these moments of grief and regret, gamblers whose souls were stirred only by the despair and tragedy of such offerings. (pg.131)
The gamblers scene is excellently written. But it reveals only something about a minor character who is soon off the page. Unless the character returns in latter books, it added little to the plot.
But, the plot moves at a good pace, and shines a light on the politics of trying to pull everyone in this land together to face a threat that some are convinced is myth, made-up to make people act a certain way. The belief of the characters on either side of this political conflict are just as strong as those on the other, believing their way is just no matter the cost.
This would certainly not be the first fantasy series to start out with some difficulty and go on to be quite enjoyable. Though I’ve not yet crossed the commitment barrier to read the ten-book epic fantasy series The Malazan Book of the Fallen, I’m told by those whose opinion I respect that, though getting through the first part of the first book is a struggle, the series is more than worth it. I’m certainly not comparing a ten book highly acclaimed fantasy series with one that has just begun. But Orullian’s series certainly starts out in similar difficulty; 300 pages through the 2nd book, it is certainly picking up steam.