Col Buchanan’s Farlander is one of the 2010 debuts that I was most looking forward to, but when it was released back in March I never quite got around to it. Now, with the build to its US release in January it managed to grab my attention once more and I finally decided to give it a go. Though not the best of reads, in Farlander Buchanan creates - if nothing else - a fun new take on the fantasy assassin story. One thing is for sure: despite its flaws this debut shows great promise for the series, The Heart of the World, it begins.
The Heart of the World is in strife. For fifty years the Holy Empire of Mann, an empire and religion born from a nihilistic urban cult, has been conquering nation after nation. Their leader, Holy Matriarch Sasheen, ruthlessly maintains control through her Diplomats, priests trained as subtle predators.
The Mercian Free Ports are the only confederacy yet to fall. Their only land link to the southern continent, a long and narrow isthmus, is protected by the city of Bar-Khos. For ten years now, the great southern walls of Bar-Khos have been besieged by the Imperial Fourth Army - it’s only a matter of time...
Ash is a member of an elite group of assassins, the Roshun, who offer protection through the threat of vendetta. Forced by his ailing health to take on an apprentice, he chooses Nico, a young man living in the besieged Bar-Khos. Nico is hungry, desperate and alone in a city that finds itself teetering on the brink.
When the Holy Matriarch’s son deliberately murders a woman under the protection of the Roshun the sect is forced to seek his life in retribution. As Ash and his young apprentice set out to fulfill the Roshun orders, their journey takes them into the hearts of the conflict between the Empire and the Free Ports...into bloodshed and death.
On a technical, more literary level Farlander possess its fair share of shortcomings. But on less in depth level - that is to say almost purely based on enjoyment - it is a much greater success, bringing about an assassin tale filled with action, intrigue and some neat characters. Honestly, who can say that a sixty-some year old assassin does not sound badass on some level?
After a captivating prologue, Farlander takes a bit of time off to flounder in a mess of worldbuilding and character introduction. Through much of this the reader visits side-characters which play very little part in this novel and working his way through sadly non-avoided info-dumps. Yes, there are some of those. And in some parts quite often. Buchanan is only saved by the fact that the world he so frequently gushes about in overly-long segments is well-worth the attention.
Indeed, the Heart of the World is a region vaguely based geographically (or so it seems from the map) on the Mediterranean and populated by all matters of people. Buchanan exposes first the war-afflicted city of Bar-Khos and its starving populace and goes on to detail the immoral nature of the Mann Empire and their ghastly rituals as well as describing the feared order of the Roshun. These are the main focus of the story as Nico, the main character, is sent to be trained with them. From the moment when Nico is told he will become an assassin the novel truly begins to pick up, leading us to think it will continue on at such a pace, but regretfully it does not.
Thankfully, Buchanan shirks away from going into long passages about Nico’s training to become and elite assassin, choosing to only recount significant moments. The book during this middle section, though, sags. After that initial increase of pace things wind down again. This does not last too long and the reader is rewarded with some touching and noteworthy character moments and then things finally do pick up for good.
Farlander’s plot is relatively strait forward but brings a decent amount of intrigue to the table. Staying in the same vein as before, the main-plot line is nothing terribly original, in fact it has a sizable collection of stereotypes, but I feel I must stress how fun it feels. It’s not heavy or particularly complex but nor is it light and fluffy - it finds its on comfortable middle and sticks to it, delivering a satisfying and enjoying read. Also, it is clear that Farlander is setting up much for the rest of the series, and that may lead to the overall series-arc being much stronger than that of this single book.
So bottom line? Farlander doesn’t stand very solidly on its own. Fantasy fans will certainly derive much enjoyment from it but only those interested in beginning a new series should really consider giving this one a try. Apart from that, Buchanan’s debut is one to note for the promise it shows both for this new author and the series he has begun. He may still have far to go but there is without a doubt much talent lurking beneath the surface. Look for Farlander’s sequel in spring of 2011 in the UK and at some later date in the US. American readers though should be more inclined to look to January 18th, 2011 when Farlander will be published in that country.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Col Buchanan's Website: http://www.colbuchanan.com/