(Read the full review by Jeff Somers here.)
Your celebrated metatextual genre deconstructions are all well and good, but Brian Lee Durfee is here to make fantasy EPIC again. His debut novel The Forgetting Moon (the first in the Five Warrior Angels series), is epic fantasy turned up to eleven, a bracing reading experience that reminds you why you fell in love with the genre in the first place. Durfee writes with admirable energy and verve, delivering a story that does absolutely nothing in moderation.
As the first book in a new series, this one needs to do a lot of heavy lifting to establish the universe of the Five Isles. Durfee doesn’t waste time: the opening chapters threaten to overwhelm you with eye-popping detail as Durfee introduces his point-of-view characters and the world they inhabit. It’s a setting both intimate and huge—geographically, it’s fairly contained, giving us an opportunity to orient ourselves. But the history and culture are sprawling, from a Christianity-inspired religion, to a social structure whose basis in familiar Western European-inspired hierarchies is only a staring point. He seeds in details that slowly blossom into something unique and refreshingly messy. Readers will play catch-up throughout the early chapters as a torrent of detail builds the world piece by piece—but it’s well worth the effort to follow along.
In the world of the Five Isles, Prince Aeros Raijael of Sor Sevier believes he is the second coming of god’s son, and has spearheaded an invasion of the kingdoms of the Five Isles, assured of an inevitable, blessed victory. As the story opens, the kingdom of Gul Kana is the only realm left outside Aeros’ reach—and its time has come. Aeros is a fantastic antagonist, imposing and beautiful, completely convinced of the righteousness of his actions, and shrouded in just enough mystery to keep us fascinated. His army is a monument of grimdark cruelty: his key generals, the Knight Archaic, are incredible warriors entrusted with Aeros’ personal security as well as the prosecution of his war. The casual cruelty and violence they inflict on anyone who gets in their way is shocking, occasionally even revolting—but never without fanatical purpose. One of the Knights Archaic, a beautiful woman named Enna Spades, numbers among the fiercest, darkest characters in recent fantasy—a vile creature who makes deals and plays games with prisoners and enemies alike, at one point setting a captured boy free only after he successfully swims through shark-infested waters. She is cruel and deadly—and entertaining as hell.
Speaking of Enna Spades, she’s not the only homicidal maniac waiting in the wings, (she is responsible for only some of the worst moments of torture in the book, which gives you an idea of what’s in store). Durfee doesn’t shy away from darkness, moderate the cruelties of an invading army led by a religious fanatic, or underplay the problems of a psychotic and sociopathic boy king (that would be King Jovan of Gul Kana, who inflicts his share of increasingly disturbing suffering on his subjects and even his own family, including his resilient sister Jondralyn. Jondralyn is but another of the many characters through which we view this story, a familiar but effective method of chopping a way into a sprawling tale, from the humble existence of the orphan Nail, raised by a gruff man in a small town, and clearly someone of incredible significance (if Aeros interest in him is any indication); to the royal families, religious leaders, and the knights and assassins plotting and dueling across the land. Durfee’s approach to establishing narrators is “the more the merrier,” and the result provides us with a rich and detailed view of all stratas of society.
Epic and Classic
Durfee revels in the classic tropes of fantasy—mad kings, powerful magical relics, massed armies, knights in armor, assassins so skilled they can stab you without you even feeling it—but he twists them just enough to make them his own. The Vallé, who have pointed ears and lithe, agile movements that mark them as inhuman, are the elves of this universe—but are highly offended if you call them that. Religion plays a vital role, offering a complicated mythos that has direct bearing on both the plot and the motivations of the characters. It’s as if Durfee was so excited by his every idea for this universe, he couldn’t help but dive into each and every detail with gusto—and that delirious energy pulses throughout the book, creating an addictive reading experience. Durfee hasn’t held anything back—this is a deeply imagined world packed with incredible violence, cruelty, and compelling characters and mysteries. The result is a fantasy that brings epic back in a big way.
The Forgetting Moon is available August 30.
The Forgetting Moon
Hardcover $19.87 | $25.99