Scrolls review: Farlander

Farlander by Col Buchanan (ISBN 978-0230744813)

There’s an intriguing idea at the centre of Buchanan’s debut novel; the notion of revenge de-personalised as a means to keep the peace.  The enforcers, a quasi-ninja order called the Rōshun are our window into ‘the Heart of the World’ with our focus falling mainly on their greatest assassin Ash and his new apprentice Nico.  The mechanism by which the Rōshun keep track of who has been killed by whom is a little flimsy – this world being neither high tech nor overtly magical in nature – and unfortunately the more the author tries to explain it the more laughable it becomes, but he does mine the dramatic potential from the get go.

We meet Ash, a sick and ageing Farlander in the court of a savage king.  He is there to kill the man responsible for the death of a merchant who was protected by Vendetta, but finds himself captured and sentenced to death.  Poor bugger.  All because someone he didn’t know was rich enough to afford the protection of the Rōshun  (oh yeah, they don’t do it for free – they’re not that altruistic.)  His escape and completion of his mission is a very very cool introduction to the character.  The dialogue is sparse, the humour dry, the action is brutal and fast.  It is the mark of the movie industry on literature that renders this so cinematic a read, and one would suspect (were it not for the copious amount of ‘on-screen’ carnal carnage from the baddies) that this was written with a view to Hollywood adaptation.  It all feels a bit too pre-credit sequency though.

There is a slightly ham-fisted sense of pieces being placed on a board for the first few chapters and as the story progresses much of the plotting feels forced, from the selection of Nico as Ash’s apprentice to the murderous act which will bring them up against the might of the Holy Mannian Empire – this world’s dominant force of evil.  Beneath the initially interesting trappings of a borderline steampunk-cum-alchemic fiction world it’s all just a little too convenient and familiar.  The warrior monks are cool but they’re no Jedi; the Empire is evil but so self indulgent that collapse seems inevitable from the outset, and the rest of the world is too sketchily referenced to have a sense of real existence.

There is a good book struggling to emerge here.  There are enough interesting ideas to give the world a distinctive flavour, from the sky ships to the use of drugs to control peoples memory, but the characterisation is weak and the names of people and places often feel jarringly appropriated from films and books the author has enjoyed.  Nevertheless, with a pace that rattles along and a simple driving plot it is a book worth reading, though alas more for the potential Buchanon shows than the tale itself.

3/5

Reviewed by Dion Winton-Polak

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