The Other Lands
David Anthony Durham
Durham, known for his historical fiction novels, burst onto the fantasy scene in 2007 with Acacia: The War with the Mein the first in a new fantasy series. Released back in September The Other Lands is the second book in Durham’s Acacia series continuing the saga of the Akaran family and their empire. Like the first book The Other Lands is a different from many fantasy novels today and its pacing, structure, and themes all seem informed by Durham’s experience with historical fiction. If you’ve yet to read the first book there are definite spoilers here.
We pick up nine years after Corinn’s coup and reclamation of the Akaran throne from her husband. What we get is very much a middle novel as the characters work through the tumultuous events of the previous book and how, or if, those events have changed them. Mena, has been tasked by her sister to track down and destroy the horrific foulthings spawned by the unleashed fury of Santoth magic and she still struggles with her desire for love and family as well as her violent role as the goddess Maeban on Earth. Dariel bears the guilt of his actions following Aliver’s death when he foreswore his brother’s word and attacked the Meinish army and has thrown himself into helping the common folk rebuild after the war. Summoned back to his sister’s side he is quickly tasked to journey across the sea to the titular Other Lands and meet with the mysterious Lothun Aklun. Corinn meanwhile has grasped the control of the Empire with an iron fist becoming something of a distant figure willing to use anyone and everyone to guide her empire to the destiny she foresees. In the process she now wields powerful magic capable of both creation and destruction.
The Other Lands is a transitory novel. On the one hand Corinn makes claim to follow through with some of her brother Aliver’s wishes but in truth become a tyrant whose lies and subterfuge are as great as any of her ancestors. While there is a perceived sense of change in leadership and governance is, in truth, more of the same tyranny that existed before. On the other hand the war of the previous volume and Aliver’s actions have allowed the cunning League of Ships to set into action a chain of events that will change things forever. As the various main characters work through what has happened to them in the past each either begins to affirm who they believed they are or begin to forge a new destiny.
Dariel is perhaps the greatest example of this. The guilt of his final actions in the war rests heavy on his shoulders. He is pushed to contemplation and introspection where, as a pirate, he was more prone to action. He is confronted with more consequences of his actions when Sire Neen, a leader in the League, reminds him that the League platforms he destroyed not only contained League members but their families and the quota slaves as well. Later Dariel is captured by individuals looking to exact vengeance on his family for the quota trade (a levy of child slaves given over to the League, who traded them to Lothun Aklun, who traded them in to their clients, all for a drug called mist that kept the population of the Akaran empire docile) and is again brought face to face with the past actions of his family. This time however Dariel is questioned by, and in turn questions, his captors in a fascinating use of, or at least something similar to, the Socratic method. While this manages to gives a nice bit of exposition regarding the history of his captors it also allows for some significant development on Dariel’s part the conclusion of which I thought was ironic: intellectual discourse, thought not action, leads a man to realize he is defined by what he does not what he says.
Corinn’s narrative was equally fascinating though spoiled somewhat when another character, Barad the Lesser, quickly dissects her motives and personality. The analysis is spot on but I think it denies the reader their own discovery of the same facts. She is a hard woman, but it is a hardness that is brittle and prone to cracking. I read her section with trepidation waiting for the moment when she finally breaks. While there was one close call in that regard it never really comes to fruition but some late revelations by the Santoth, followed by some clever language in Corinn’s last chapter or two manage to evoke a nice sense of dread about what is to come.
I may have mentioned this in other reviews but I always find the introduction of certain Lovecraftian elements tend to heighten my enjoyment of fiction. Intentional or not that is the case here as well not only in the foulthings Mena fights but in certain revelations late in the novel as well (I don’t want to spoil it though I hinted at it above). There are other elements of horror here as well, particularly as we learn how Lothun Aklun magic actually functions. While not as ground breaking and engaging as I had hoped The Other Lands is still an exciting, well-crafted read that leaves me eager to see if things explode quite as large as I expect them to in the next volume. In addition to a fascinating plot and tangled (in a good way) politics Durham has created what I think is an excellent study on the nature of leadership and family, particularly as the two pertain to one another, in additional to providing some vibrant portraits of our three main characters and their relationship to one another. If there is one thing that Durham, and the Acacia series at large, does it is craft a narrative that is both epic in scope and intimate in nature; a saga of family and empire that I highly recommend fans of fiction from all genres experience.