January 27, 2016 § 1 Comment
I’m always excited to get my hands on books that fall under my favourite genres of science-fiction and fantasy, and when they have been written by local (read: South African) authors, that excitement seems to double. So Dave-Brendon de Burgh’s Betrayal’s Shadow, book one of his upcoming Mahaelian Chronicles, was a real treat to get stuck into over the December holidays.
This one is an authentic sweeping, epic fantasy, with a large cast and the fate of the world at stake. The story follows variously: High General Brice Serholm; Blade Knight Alun; royal courtesan Seira; Khyber, a rogue Elvayn; the positively diabolical Cobinian; King Jarlath, an impossibly powerful and thus terribly intriguing figure; and the king’s dangerous first advisor, Del’Ahrid.
The events in Betrayal’s Shadow are set after a devastating war between the humans and the Elvayn, a race that is able to control magic through song. Reduced to the status of slaves, and having their tongues ritually cut out before reaching maturity, the Elvayn seem to have become a non-existent threat, and all is ostensibly well in the kingdom. However, we are quickly presented with an unsilenced Elvayn – Khyber — on the loose, the High General Brice missing in action under mysterious circumstances, and Blade Knight Alun experiencing disturbing new physical and mental traits after being badly wounded in a strange battle. Thus Betrayal’s Shadow roars into action, with a thundering pace that never seems to drag.
De Burgh’s real strength, here, is assuredly world-building, and this is a difficult thing to get right. While he throws the reader into the thick of things from the very first page and wastes little time on exposition, the internal logic of his world’s history and contemporary political structure comes together beautifully as the story progresses. The Betrayal’s Shadow universe has clearly been given much careful thought and development, and the effort has resulted in a wonderfully convincing fantasy world.
I also found the characters fascinating, especially Seira, the royal courtesan – I loved the chapters following her and found myself earnestly wishing for more time to be spent on Seira’s story. As another reviewer, Suzanne Rooyen, has noted, women do not really feature in roles outside of the patriarchal tradition, and the real movers and shakers are overwhelmingly male. The Mahaelian Chronicles will continue, however, and so I am hopeful that female characters will feature more prominently as the story progresses.
Finally, Nerine Dorman has already noted that the novel could have benefitted from more stringent editing to catch a number of typos, and I will add that another round of edits focusing on style could really fill out and polish the prose – but perhaps that’s the literature student in me!
On the whole, this is fun, competent epic fantasy which should appeal to most lovers of the genre, and the fact that the story doesn’t end here means that all of my little niggles may well be addressed in the next instalments – colour me interested!