Tor UK, 2010
Farlander by Col Buchanan is yet another one of those titles. I’ve bitched about the publishing of fantasy in the US vs. UK frequently in the past and I’ll note again that Farlander is another title with a surplus of several months of lead time in the overseas market (March 2010 for the UK versus January 2011 from the US). That out of the way it should also be noted that the advent of Book Depository makes this less of an issue and the world is entirely a better place thanks to their presence in the book e-tailor field.
Farlander is Col Buchanan’s debut novel and is a interesting take on the fantasy genre; though one that didn’t completely come together for me. In a place called The Heart of the World the Empire of Mann, who preach a religion founded on and steeped in the natural state moral ambiguity, are making a final push on the last Free Cities left standing. Elsewhere the order of assassins called the Roshun protect their charges through the threat of vendetta. Ash, an older and respected member of the order, has taken on an apprentice named Nico. When the son of the Empress of Mann kills a young woman protected by the Roshun it falls to Ash and Nico to follow through with the vendetta.
There is a lot to like in Farlander from settings to character. The Heart of the World is seemingly in the midst of a sort of industrial revolution; or hovering right before one. Black powder weapons are employed alongside swords and pirates and merchantmen ply the skies as well as the seas. There is little to no magic in Farlander’s setting and what little there is bears a distinctly eastern flair and extraordinarily subtle touch. While Nico is a familiar archetype, the street urchin offered an opportunity to become something greater, Buchanan offers some subtle touches make him stand out from a crowd; and some late game not-so-subtle touches but the less said about those the better (to preserve the surprise).
While Nico might seem familiar to fantasy readers the rest of Farlander’s cast features some fascinating and distinct characters. Ash, while he plays the stoic warrior role quiet nicely, is haunted by his past and certain of his future. The quick-tempered Baracha is his rival at once frightening in his intensity yet admirable in his skills and distinct thanks to the religious values that set him apart from the rest of the Daoist Roshun. Of course, the most interesting character is introduced towards the end of the novel. A Imperial “diplomat” (a sort-of joke since these diplomats are essentially assassin-priests) with a fascinating background and troubled relationship with his mother (who is a member of a “love cult”). This late perspective offered one of the more fascinating parts of the novel and was perhaps my favorite part of the novel.
While the more familiar perspective of Nico remains a more-or-less central focus of Farlander broader perspectives (like the aforementioned diplomat) appear throughout the novel. Most disturbing of these is Kirkus, the son of the Empress of Mann, whose thoughts and actions reveal the depravity behind the Mannian faith and the culture of fear and despair it engenders. Elsewhere there are the trials of aide to the General of the a the besieged that was once Nico’s home. While this perspective offers insight into the trials and pressures that war puts on the populace of a city it is this perspective that I found the most difficult to get through. While there are some links between this aide’s tale and that of Nico and the Roshun I still felt something a disconnect. While certainly well-written and fascinating in its own right in truth I had difficulty in seeing the necessity of its presence in the novel. Certainly it serves to lay the foundation for future volumes in the series but at the cost of upsetting the pacing and plot of the rest of Farlander and it felt extraneous at worst and distracting at best.
The final third of the book shines the brightest. Where the Roshun finally plan their assault to take out Kirkus and the action that ensues is both thrilling a full of surprises. Buchanan doesn’t pull any punches and the sense of oppression and danger in the capital city of Mann drips off the page. While as whole Farlander didn’t blow me away there are enough fascinating characters (particularly that Diplomat!) and some quality writing despite the occasionally clunky plot and less-than-stellar pacing that I’ll be back for the next novel whenever it arrives. Farlander is out now in the UK (HC and PB) and will be hitting the US in January.