Tom Lloyd’s Stormcaller, the first book in the Twilight Reign series first saw publication in the U.K. in March….of 2006. If my previous rants haven’t hammered home the disparity between the U.K. and American fantasy market maybe that will. I don’t know. Regardless The Stormcaller is a fascinating entry into the fantasy genre that sparkles with originality while at the same time paying homage to the works that have come before. The story centers around Isak, a white-eye, a creature touched by the gods and gifted with superhuman strenght, speed, and other magical abilities but cursed with a quick temper. Isak, as it turns out is the Chosen of Nartis, the hunter god and chosen deity of the Farlan people, and thus is heir to the enigmatic and powerful Lord Bahl. But there are greater things afoot and Isak finds himself drawn into a web of prophecy and power.
I’ll start with my only major problem with the novel before moving on to reast which I greatly enjoyed. I admit I am not always the most careful of readers but there were times during the novel where I got a bit lost by the introduction of new threads to world Lloyd has created. There are several points during the novel where Lloyd shifts away from the main characters to reveal events happening elsewhere and it during those moments that I became most confused. There is a history to Llyod’s world that unfolds slowly, and not completely, over the course of the novel and I found that during early going it tends to obfuscate the relationships between the various peoples that populate it. It is never stated outright, though I could have missed it, but appears that the various clans that make up each nation are each dedicated to a specific deity. Throw in vampires who, at first, don’t appear to involve in the main plot at all (fixed later) and various and other sundry events that have occurred”off-screen” (i.e. in the distant or recent past) and things tend to get a bit jumbled. But, while this can be a bit of a distraction, Lloyd manages to pull the disparate threads that appear over the first half of the novel into a mostly cohesive hole in the final quarter of the book.
The Stormcaller is Lloyd’s first novel so I am willing to forgive some of the narrative confusion especially in light of the originality and frequent glimpse of true flair that appear throughout the novel. Lloyd’s best work is in his characters, Isak in particular is great addition to the fantasy canon. The fun of the white-eyes is that they play to a familiar fantasy trope, the savage no-nonsense warrior (think Conan), amp it up to 11 and tie it into the nature of the world at large. The amped up machismo and aggressive is something that could grow tiresome but by placing Isak in a position of power he forces the ill-tempered white eye to engage in socially demanding situations creating what is, in essence, a comedy of manners. The moments where Isak’s white eye nature gets in the way of diplomatic relations or social behavior are when the novel’s dialouge truly shines. Isak’s comments regarding diplomacy (something akin to “I’d rather not associate with that sort”) were a laugh out loud moment for me and his straight to the point, no-nonsense attitude creates some truly memorable moments.
On a related note, Lloyd does particularly well in examing the warring nature of Isak’s humanity and his white eye nature. Lord Bahl, while a fairly well rounded character in his own right, retains enough mystery and remains opaque enough to serve as an excellent foil for Isak. Likewise the characters that surround Isak serve to accentuate traits that Isak possesses and those he does not. In particular the worldly and charming Count Vesna, the childhood hero that Isak can never be, and Seargant Carel who serves as a father figure as the moral compass that Isak’s white eye nature frequently overcomes serve as a fantastic means to reveal how Isak truly differs from those around him. It seems you can’t discuss much fantasy without discussing magic. Lloyd doesn’t shy away from its use but at the same seems critical of authors who set out explicit boundries behind their magic; at least Isak’s comment regarding the theory of magic (he is told that it doesn’t matter that much to white eyes and thus stops paying attention when people attempt to teach him) lead me to believe this. Isak gives an extraordinarily basic description of how magic works but only insofar of how it applies to white eyes. Thus how exactly the magic white eyes use works is never fully explained nor do we ever get to see what limits Isak’s power has. Towards the end of the novel we get hints regarding magic as it pertains to the balance of Nature but by and large the reader is forced to accept what he sees as face value. Suprisingly, for a reader who typically enjoys seeing the more scientific outline of how magic works, I found that the cinematic nature of Isak’s magic use and the bare explanation we receive worked well enough.
There is certainly a deeper reading to Lloyd’s work and it touches heavily on the nature of religion, fantaticism and prophecy. It is never heavy-handed and tied so intricatley into the overal plot of the book, and I suspect the series at large, that it is really only noticable upon hindsight and reflection once you finally put the book down. In a genre that is well known for its use of “chosen ones,” destiny, and messianic figures Lloyd takes a delightfully novel approach at the end of the novel. It isn’t just originality for originality’s sake either as Lloyd manages take that approach as a natural extension of the characterisation set forth for Isak over the course of the novel. It is surprsingly similar to the path taken by Peter David in his parodical Sir Apropos of Nothing, though not played for laughs.
The Stormcaller is an entertaining though flawed debut from an author that shows a lot of promise. It manages to touch upon many tropes familiar to fantasy: destiny, the chosen hero, the farmboy turned king and twist them into something new and unique. Lloyd focuses on action in many instances, sneaking some world-building in during the quiet moments and trick that tends to be confusing more than not. A fact that is a bit of a shame as the history and world he has created do seem genuinley interesting. By and large that tendacy slips away towards the latter half of the novel and we start to see a smoother blend of world-building and plot development that greatly increases the readability of the second half of the novel. In fact the action scenes combined with the developments of the latter half of the novel have me excited to see what happens in the next book, and to see how Tom Lloyd devlops as his craft matures. If you’re a fantasy fan looking for something new and interesting to read that is at once familiar but wholly original than I highly recommend you take a look at The Stormcaller (its sequel The Twilight Herald should be available in March).