Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
Self-publishing by authors is now more common than generally accepted. Sure, the big publishers have more clout in the market-place, but the degree of promotional support these can demand from their authors militates towards the self-publisher putting his or her own shoulder to that tyrannical wheel. At least by self-publishing the individual author can be their own boss, to stand or to fall on their own strengths and weaknesses. It can also be fun, or so I am told.
Will Davidson writes with a controlled, descriptive style that draws the reader into the narrative through its very economy. Hence explanations become intense statements of the strange world he sets before us sucking the reader into the plot, as it were. Coupled to very strong descriptions of each individual character in the story, the reader soon becomes a co-conspirator in the direction and dissemination of this tale.
Outwardly this looks like yet another rather prosaic tale about a world peopled by dragons, elves and humans, but it isn’t. Don’t be fooled by the descriptive blurb on the cover. This is all about a human world in which the dragons are all dead and the elves long departed by boat into the West, destination unknown. Now some two thousand years on, this is a former magical world that has not only lost the magic but it has also acquired its own collection of dreadful stresses. Consequently, humanity is left stewing in its own dark ignorance, outwardly conspiring to emulate the elves in all things, but finding the complexities far too overwhelming.
The Tower that oversees central government is obsessed with style and form in which everyone must know their place. The population is concentrated in heavily defended urban precincts surrounded by fortified farms and controlled by a formal bureaucracy which is content to ensure its continuity through the deployment of informers and torture. Due to population stress, there is a one-child policy which is rigidly and often violently imposed. Grinding poverty is widespread as a low-intensity civil war is played out in the wider countryside, complicated by bands of orks who hunt humans for food. There is also The Fest, a period of institutional social upheaval used to control any public expression for change.
Tomas Cullan, an investigator for the Council at an urban centre named Rivertop, is given a task by his superior, the Arch-Investigator Victor Appelsin to look for and bring to justice a group of alleged conspirators against the good order of fashion and style before they all vanished from sight and society. Tomas learns that these people are responsible for the death of Victor’s wife and his disabling injuries. As the story develops the reader is privileged to travel through this weird world inside Tomas’ own narrative. In due course Tomas finds himself in the company of these intellectual and social outsiders who have concluded that the absence of elven magic has caused humanity to fail to develop. New ideas and innovations are treated with fear and suspicion whilst the triviality of fashion is followed to the point of ridicule.
This dissident group has even discovered that the corpus of historical references to the elves are based on limited evidence written by the elves themselves before their Departure. Historical information about the elves and their behaviour written by humans under elven rule have either been ignored or suppressed. It was highly probable that the dominant human perception that elven dominion was based on a mutual regard might be wrong. Were the elves an alien government in the manner of colonial rulers? Having adopted a different historical narrative this dissident group needed to be suppressed. Thus, a different understanding of the human condition was denied, ensuring that violence would follow.
In many ways, this is a new restatement of the old, old story of political repression by a political class unable to envisage change as it admires its own reflection in the mirror whilst ignoring the obvious deficiencies and deformities. Dissidence cannot be tolerated by a smug, self-satisfied ruling group. The resonances with our own times are plain, whatever your political loyalties. Oppression is not the way to behave.
This is good writing, intelligent, amusing yet challenging on what is a very relevant subject. It is also an excellent tale which describes, excites and pulls the reader all the way through to the final denouement. It would be quite inappropriate for this reviewer to say what this is, but the book title is what it is all about.