Monday, May 30, 2011

The Unremembered by Peter Orullian

The Unremembered, Book One in The Vault of Heaven series, by Peter Orrullian is a book with one foot in the past and one foot moving towards the future. The book is steeped in nostalgia while it pays homage to the great fantasists of the past. Peter Orullian’s voice is almost lost among this paen to his heroes but by the end of the novel, finds his voice.

The Unremembered starts off in almost suffocating familiarity. Anyone who has read the major fantasists of the 80’s and 90’s will experience a distinct feeling of deja vu. A different, and harsher perspective, would consider this fantasy by the numbers. The only thing preventing the story from feeling like fanfic was a lack of elves and dwarves. While I can appreciate what I think Peter Orullian was attempting to do, I think The Unremembered is a weaker novel for it. What I think Peter Orullian was attempting to do was to utilize the established tropes as a springboard for his own distinct ideas.

I feel that the problem occurs because The Unremembered is obviously the first novel in a lengthy series. I sense five plus books. As a result there is a lot that has to be introduced to the reader. Right off the bat The Unremembered throws six characters into the mix each with their own view points. Adding to the confusion is the rapid pace by which new information is thrown at the reader whether this be new locations, mysterious bits of information or the many enemy races.

Without any knowledge of The Unremembered’s world, Aeshau Vaal, and how it ticks, it is easy to fall back onto the many obvious tropes being thrown at the reader. This is where the novel is weakened. Because Peter Orullian is not writing a derivative piece of epic fantasy, there is a lot of lovely distinct creativity going on if you’re paying attention. But, this creativity ends up competing with established tropes so blatantly introduced into the narrative.

The good news is that by the last third of the novel, The Unremembered’s creativity begins to drown out and extinguish the bothersome static of old tropes. The thematic elements of the book really begin to take root. The character relationships begins to thicken. The overall plot begins to reveal itself. Most, importantly, the characters start to gain some depth and texture. The book comes alive as each of these elements start to sync up and harmonize.

Thematically, the book keeps a tight focus on the idea of choice and consequence. This theme creeps into many aspects of the book from the path to adulthood to the magic system. In particular I love how Peter Orullian works it into the coming of age rites for children. In Aeshau Vaal, gaining majority means more than simply being able to buy beer...it has a deeper significance both to character and plot. I thought this was a very nice touch, especially how it later works into one of Aeshau Vaal’s cultural groups, the Far.

Another very successful component of The Unremembered is the character relationships. Again, this is an aspect of the book that comes alive only in the last third of the novel but it becomes one of The Unremembered’s strong points. Every character is bound by some relationship, often times by blood. Everyone has a secret past they guard. A secret that complicates and endangers their bonds. Peter Orullian’s navigation of these bonds is perhaps the most successful work on The Unremembered.

While The Unremembered started out slow and perhaps a bit boring, the book finishes very strong. If you had asked me if I wanted to read Book Two after the first third of the book, I might have hedged a bit. After having completed the book, I look forward to next. There is a lot to be excited about in this novel and by extension The Vault of Heaven series. If nothing else, the sense of momentum the generated by the closing pages, especially the climatic ending, only fuels my excitement. But, more than anything, I want to see what happens to the characters. Will their paths follow each other? Will they diverge or even worse will they come into conflict? I am hooked by Peter Orullian’s melody and I want to listen to more.

McMillan: The Unremembered by Peter Orullian
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Amazon Vine ARC
ISBN-13: 978-0765325716

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