Friday, November 27, 2009

Review: The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham

With Acacia: The War with the Mein (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound), David Anthony Durham made the relatively rare leap from literary to genre fiction. Reactions were mixed, but generally positive and lead to Durham winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Building on this momentum, The Other Lands (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) is the second book in the Acacia Trilogy.

The Other Lands picks up about 9 years after the events of Acacia. Princess Mena hunts fowl-creatures created as an unexpected consequence of the release of Santoth sorcery that plague the land. Prince Dariel is haunted by decisions of his past and seeks his place in the empire. Queen Corinn maintains an iron grip on her empire while lacking the mist drug that previously kept the population numb. The seeming calm of Corinn’s rule changes as multiple plots surface and threats emerge from beyond the Known World.

I liked The Other Lands a good bit more than I did Acacia. In
my review, I mentioned that Acacia gets off to a relatively slow start – I didn’t feel that way about The Other Lands. This time we start with action, and while the remainder of the action is largely in the political and personal arenas, it still hums along at a pretty good pace. While the shear number of political plots at hand dwarfs the standard political thriller and had me anxious to see how they unfold.

The Other Lands is in many ways a very typical middle book of a trilogy. Acacia stood fairly well on its own – it had complete story arcs that came to fruition. The Other Lands picks up about 9 years after the end of Acacia and seems to largely serve as a bridge from the first to the last book in the trilogy. And it ends with something of a cliff-hanger – a pending war and pretty much nothing resolved.

In Acacia Durham tackles some weighty topics under the guise of epic fantasy. Four princes and princesses learn after the death of their father that the wonderful empire they will inherit is actually pretty evil, thriving on trade in slavery and drugs – they provide the slaves and in turn, get drugs that keep the populace controllable. As if that wasn’t enough, in a coup d’etat, an oppressed ethnic group takes control of the empire and actually makes things worse. With Acacia Durham takes on drugs, slavery, ethnic/racial tensions, gender disparities, personal responsibility, and much more.

In The Other Lands, Durham builds on this foundation. Can ideals reform the empire, or must the empire be ruled by a pragmatism that largely reinforces the status quo? What happens when royalty meets slaves his family sold? If you take away one drug, must it be replaced with another? Actions have consequences, some of which get dealt with in The Other Lands and many are yet to be realized.

The above questions and more mold the various characters of The Other Lands. They all dwell on the past while looking to the future. Each grows in their own way, and not always in a positive direction. These basic struggles of human nature that show through these characters in their extraordinary situations are the underlying strength of Durham’s writing.

The Acacia Trilogy is shaping up to be a cerebral, yet entertaining take on second-world fantasy with a little bit for everyone. The Other Lands builds on the potential of Acacia as Durham finds firmer footing in the genre arena and leaves me waiting anxiously for the third and final book. Fantasy fans should definitely give this series a go. 8/10

Related Posts:
Review of Acacia, David Anthony Durham Answers Questions Five


Tracy Thomason said...

Thanks for the review. The book sounds great. I enjoyed Acacia so I have high hopes for this one with your review.

Brett said...

I enjoyed it, although I have two quibbles with it:

1. You see a good dose of Durham-style, almost-third-person exposition. That's interesting for me (I'm a total worldbuilding addict), but it does tend to be a little dry at times.

2. I didn't like a particular scene involving the League near the end of the book (if I get too specific, it'll be spoilers). It seemed to completely go against the "holy crap, what do we do now?" type of situation they had after their little foul-up involving the Lothan Aklun, the Auldek, and the Numrek.

That said, I liked it more than Acacia. I particularly liked the character of Corinn in this one, as well as the way the whole plot flows from the screw-up above (I don't want to spoil anyone, so I won't say more).

Tia Nevitt said...

I really enjoyed this novel, and both are definitely on my keeper shelf. Acacia grew on me until I was quite looking forward to The Other Lands. It did not disappoint! I'll be ready for the third book, too.

Neth said...

@Brett - Durham's writing style hasn't ever really bothered me (other than my finding the first 1/3 of Acacia pretty dull). I enjoyed The Other Lands much more.

Unknown said...

The rich Victorian writing style that was so prevalent in "Acacia" is noticeably missing in "The Other Lands." The "Acacia" style was very similar to Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and Anthony Nana Kwamu's "Timbuktu Chronicles: Aida and the Chosen Soldier." David used very little of this style in "Other Lands" and in my opinion, seriously harming the quality of the work.


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