Faery Lands Forlorn by Dave Duncan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Volume two of this series follows two characters - and two plot threads - half a world away. The commonborn faun Rap, with his word of power that gives him farsight and allows to communicate with animals, tumbles into the wilds of Faerie with a pair of uneasy allies. Meanwhile, headstrong queen Inos - though queen in name only - finds herself in the exotic foreign kingdom of Arakkaran.
This is epic fantasy at its best: even when the storyline involves global events, it centers with brilliant focus on the problem of its two characters. It's refreshing to find secondary characters who are so complex, too - they don't simply function as allies or enemies, but move from one to the other depending on the motive or moment. I have to compare this book to Duncan's later books Children of Chaos and Mother of Lies; as in those volumes, the plot feels like a perfectly natural and tumultuous outgrowth of the collision of people, rather than an artificial construct.
But it's also easy to see the evolution of both Duncan's writing and the fantasy field. Much of the worldbuilding in this book, particularly character races, is rather cursory and mainstream - fauns, goblins, imps, and so forth. There's also chunks of narrative devoted to infodumping. They may fit very well into the story (they're typically given by a knowledgeable character to an ignorant one about something that very much affects the circumstances), but I am still struck that their length and directness would be a difficult sell in a modern novel. Duncan also handles this with much more grace in his later writings.
In some ways, Inos is almost the cliche headstrong princess, but she is an example that perfectly illustrates why this trope became so popular ... and unlike many of her modern imitators, she has good rationale for everything she does, and especially endearing, she is quick to apologize and quite aware of her faults. (Another sign of the times: the book blurb portrays the whole series as Rap's story, but I would say that Inos carries the weight of this volume.)
The only reason I didn't give this book another star is it suffers from Book-Two syndrome: as the second volume of five, though a lot happens, the characters don't seem to make much progress towards their ultimate goal. This makes finishing the book a bit of an exercise in frustration ... but if you have the rest of the series (a big if, considering they're now out of print - after having only #1 and #3 for the longest time, I immediately snapped up #2, #4 and #5 when I found them in a used bookstore), absolutely read on.
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