“A riveting debut. It is an interesting and vibrant world. A great adventure story.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
What I liked best about Anaimon: the Starfall is the writing style of the author, the setting (the world of Anaimon), the story and the magic system. What I felt could be better were the characters and the pacing. More on all this below.
What I liked best
If you’ve ever read something written by Timothy Nancarrow then you know this man is amazingly articulate. His short posts on the BFB forum often have the feel of Arthurian legend, and this is exactly how Anaimon often feels. I don’t care if you’re an Oxford professor with a degree in linguistics; Anaimon will teach you a thing or two about the English language, I can guarantee that. Long story short: Nancarrow has a way with words. This eloquence also flows over into the dialogues of the characters, which is most often very fitting.
The descriptions of the world of Anaimon are breath-taking. Tim makes you see the sprawling city state of Cphesus, makes you gaze upon the plains of Renth and makes you shiver from the cold in the mountains of Heddenlach. In the dialogues the characters make use of the same descriptive style, which occasionally makes one feel as if you’re reading a Shakespeare story (in my opinion this is a good thing, as it is very original. I can safely say I’ve never come across anything like it in the fantasy genre).
The world of Anaimon is big, rich in history (kind of reminded me of Malazan) and full of different races and peoples. The erudition of Nancarrow and his knowledge of all things historical becomes readily apparent when you read about the different nations, peoples, tribes, creatures, legends, myths and so on.
There are the great city states of the Order; reminiscent of the ancient Greek poleis in how they are governed (if you’ve read The Republic from Plato or Aristotle’s Politics, then you find much you’ll recognize), but have a Meso-American feel to them as well. The names of military and bureaucratical facets of the Order are Greek and/or Latin sounding (Militares, Basileia Acolytus Prima, Polemahkes Midniaros etc) , while the character names are reminiscent of old native American names (Burning Flower, Wandering Star, Little Fire etc). There’s much and more to tell of the Orders, but suffice it to say that they’re basically theocracies where a priest-ruler with heavenly mandate of a very diverse (and cool) pantheon rules swathes of land with the help of a strong military establishment.
Always threatening the Orders are tribes living on the outskirts of civilization. There are for example the Iera, a proud, roaming people that have fought (and mostly lost) many wars against the Order. There are the sea-faring Alethians who are shunned by the more civilized peoples of Anaimon (for good reason?). Then there are the Viking-like Syndicals, roaming the Northern reaches of the continent of Heddenlach. The list goes on and on.
There are also many fantastical creatures roaming the world of Anaimon; some sentient, others not, and others god-like. Special mention has to go out to the War-Harlot, the champion of the evil Madritaihri creatures. Awesome!
Can’t tell much about this without spoiling anything, so you might want to read the blurb of the book to get an impression.
What I can say about the story is this: it’s engaging, in places quite original and fun.
The magic system is well thought out and subtle. The main magic system is that of the Order. The Gods grant the experienced magic users visions of the past, present and possibly, the future. These visions are called memory-echos. The subtlety lies within the fact that it’s more a mnemonic experience than a supernatural experience (if that at all makes sense…). I believe it would be very well possible to actually use the memory-echo technique in real life to be honest (although maybe in a slimmed down version). In any case, I think it is highly original and it suits the story and the world of Anaimon really well. Other magic systems are also hinted at (the Iera rain dance comes to mind), but are not yet elaborated on.
So those were the best parts. Now on immediately to the parts I felt could have been better.
What could have been better?
I felt the characters could be fleshed out a bit more. I also felt the motivations of the lead characters were sometimes a bit unrealistic. I didn’t particularly like the characters of Burning Star and Little Fire. Burning Star is holier than the pope and Little Fire is a whiney know-it-all. On the other hand, Wandering Star was a cool character; brooding and melancholy, yet with a big heart and a taciturn type of humor that occasionally flashes to the surface (especially during, after, or right before battle). Coiled Storm was also a likeable character. She’s really feisty and I hope we get to see a lot more of her in the sequels. The protagonists could also use some of Abercrombie’s or GRRM’s ‘greyness’. I don’t want to read about how Burning Flower is beyond reproach and sometimes downright angelical. I also want to read that, although in essence she is a good person, she also really likes to pick her nose when she thinks the others are sleeping. Or that she has secret cravings for Coiled Storm, which is eating at her conscience, because she knows such lust is wrong! Okay, that’s perhaps taking it a bit too far, but I think you catch my drift.
Now this is the point that bugged me the most. The book takes off pretty slowly. Even though the cataclysm of the Starfall takes place pretty early on in the book, I didn’t feel the book really took off until about 150 pages in (the book is 400 pages long). Also, in some parts I felt the story dragged a bit (for example when our heroes reside with the monks). However, the final 200 pages of the book are fast-paced and a lot of fun. Never a dull moment. I particularly liked the part where our heroes reside on a boat. Cool stuff! I think it’s a bit of a shame that the first 200 pages are not as engaging as the final 200 pages.
I was sometimes confused when the characters where having a conversation. It was sometimes difficult to know which of the characters was talking. After some chapters I realized this is because Nancarrow first lets the character say his/her piece, and only after that he indicates which character said those lines. Example:
“Who do you suppose is out there? Should we attempt to ascertain their identity, or do we remain here and hide?”, Little Fire asked her in a breathless, muted voice.
This scene had multiple characters in it, so there was really no well to tell up front who said those words. It would have been clearer if that line was formulated in the following way:
Little Fire shook his head. “Who do you suppose is out there? Should we attempt to ascertain their identity, or do we remain here and hide?”, the small scholar asked her in a breathless, muted voice.
This is just a suggestion of course, and I’m not even sure other persons will have the same irk, but there’s that.
That’s about it! I listed the goods and the bads and like in every other review I seem to have rambled on quite a bit, so without further ado here we are with the final verdict:
I grade Anaimon: the Starfall by Timothy Nancarrow with an 8, so you guess you can say I enjoyed this title quite a bit. Looking forward to the next installment (and to more scenes with the war-harlot!)
Added 28th March 2016