Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Hickory Staff: Eldarn Sequence Book 1 by Robert Scott and Jay Gordon

In a sleepy town in Colorado Steven Taylor, assistant bank manager, has been given the thankless task of going through the safety deposit box lists and working out which are live and which have not been touched for years. What he doesn't expect to find is a box that has been left untouched for 135 years, used only once. When Steven's curiosity gets the better of him he finds a way to break into the box, landing him and his house mate Mark into a whole heap of trouble.

Meanwhile, in a land far far away, the royal families across the land of Eldarn are quickly being destroyed by disease, treachery, lunacy and grief. Only one survives and begins a reign of terror across the whole continent that will last centuries. It is the portal to this terrifying dictatorship that Steven manages to find and accidentally falls through along with Mark. Here they meet the local resistance and find themselves caught up in a plot to free all of Eldarn. Can they survive, rescue Eldarn and manage to find a way home? You'll have to read it to find out :)

I do like a good fantasty book. I thought Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind was fantastic but after reading the first 6/7 books in the series got a bit bored with the recycled storyline (boy meets girl, something separates them and they spend the rest of the book trying to be with one another again). I also love kids fantasy like Harry Potter and Eragon. So when I saw this book in the Sci-fi and Fantasy section of Waterstones last year I made a mental note to borrow it from the library sometime and give it a try.

When I first started reading it, I won't lie, I found it hard going. The story kept jumping to different scenes in different places at different times. The story seems to lack any cohesion until you get to about 70 to 100 pages in. Then the story really gets going and the first bit of the book gradually starts making sense. So whatever you do, when you try this story, get 150 pages in at least before deciding whether or not to give up.

I like this book, it's a good honest bit of fantasy with all the things you want, strange new worlds, magic, an adventure, good vs evil and a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure. Characters have flaws (such as Steven's obsession with maths puzzles :) ) and not everyone has a happy ending. It is the first book in a trilogy but its good enough to have me wanting to read more, particularly as it ends on a tremendous cliff hanger and given the rest of the book you really don't know what will happen.

There are some irritating aspects to the book. The periodic references to Mark being black and the racism he does or does not encounter don't seem to make much sense. They come across as the authors having a periodic dig about racist attitudes and a need to remind the reader of Mark's origins. I can't rule out that further along in the series this will all make sense but it still comes across a little irritating at times. What relevance does it have that the character is black? Should they be singled out for that?

As well as Mark being singled out, one of the characters in this book can unexpectedly do magic. Whilst there are some clues being laid in the second book as to why this is, you do feel its a bit too much to believe and too much of a coincidence in this first book. You got along with it because you have to, but in some ways it feels as if its taken for granted. There's very little working out why or learning how to use it or anything like that. It just feels a little odd!

For fantasy fans out there who have read things like Terry Goodkind and Charles Stross' Merchant Princes saga I would definitely recommend giving this one a try.

*4 stars*

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