Sergey and Marina Dyachenko
The Scarby Marina and Sergey Dyachenko appears to be the authors’ first translation into English. The Dyanchenko’s are rather prolific in the non-English European market and particularly in those states whose members are part of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Translation isn’t an easy thing but I’m always saddened when it takes works like this (well reviewed, and a recipient of prestigious awards in its home market) more than a decade to get translated and even further depressed by the fact that I never bothered to expand my borders by learning a new language (something never really emphasized in the American Education system, but that is still a poor excuse). Elinor Huntington deserves some serious recognition for doing a superb job with the translation. Not that I can compare against the Russian but I never noticed any major bumps that threw me out of the story.
The publisher’s blurb for The Scar places under the umbrella of the sword and sorcery genre and that works to an extent. There is a certain traditional feel to the prose (here I’m assuming that is intended rather than a consequence of the translation) but one that definitely calls to mind the works of the more lyrical swords and sorcery of yesterday like Howard or Moore (the blurb cites Robin Hobb and Michael Moorcock). However, The Scar is a more direct study of character and consequence than modern fantasies and leans much less heavily on action than traditional sword and sorcery. This novel is its own unique fantasy (not quite heroic not quite epic) and one that is a breath of fresh air amongst the grim and gritty (which I still love) and even the more traditional epic fantasies available today.
The Scar introduces readers to the rather despicable character Egert and arrogant, womanizing, and generally all around disgusting member of the an elite town guard. Egert, a textbook narcissist, is by-and-large our hero. One fateful day Egert provokes a not-so-martial student into a dual and winds up killing him. Egert, seeing this as no big deal is even more surprised when he is himself challenged to a duel by a mysterious Wanderer. The Wanderer leaves Egert a live but with a scar; one both tangible and not-so-tangible. From there the novel follows Egert’s journey towards possible redemption.
The authors do a wonderful job in setting up Egert as a complete and total ass. Indeed I was glad to see him get his comeuppance so early in the novel. However, it wasn’t long before I started to wonder if Egert’s scar had slipped past just into the realm of cruel and unusual. You are left wondering whether or not the scar, should it ever be removed, would have any lasting impact on Egert or whether he would return to his old way. Was the Egert seen during the majority of the novel simply someone produced by the magic of the scar or were the changes precipitated by the scar something deeper than what could initially be seen. Egert’s own uncertainty and the author’s deft and consistent refusal to hint one way or another certainly aids this aspect of the plot. Of course about halfway through the book you get a glimpse, or at least hear the echo, of wheels within wheels.
It is worth noting that The Scar is actually the second book in a three book sequence (note I’m not using the word trilogy). The first is a book called The Gate-Keeper. There is some mention of a Gate Keeper in a story told by Toria’s father and I suspect he does an apt job of summarizing that early untranslated novel. I didn’t know about this when I read The Scar and the novel work’s amazingly well as a stand-alone. The Archmage’s story is tied to the mysterious figure of The Wanderer. If The Wanderer, under another name, played a bigger part in the first novel I’m not sure I would have enjoyed The Scar quite as much as I did. His role as sort of mysterious and inscrutable force in The Scar works perfectly unburdened by any prior knowledge on the part of the reader. I have to wonder how such of foreknowledge of who or what The Wanderer is or was would impact my reaction to his appearance in The Scar. Furthermore, as is the Archmage’s tale of the Gate Keeper draws a rather subtle parallel to Egert’s situation that I feel would not work nearly as well if it were revealed in a more overt fashion; it would certain ruin some of the rather lyrical ending sequence. As is The Scar is an engaging and moving fantasy that hopefully marks the beginning of the Dyachenkos’ translation into English.