I hope everyone had a great Christmas, and Santa brought you what you wanted.
Heading toward the end of the year, I thought I would reflect on the most interesting Fantasy of the Year. My overall favourite read would have to go to Ryhming Rings, the surprise posthumous publication by my all-time favourite writer David Gemmell, but here I’m talking about Fantasy novels particularly.
I did not quite know what to make of this book, since on the face of it, it featured many of the things that usually are deal-breakers for me, but I still come back to the novel as my most unusual Fantasy read of the year. The first novel by by Peter Newman, called The Vagrant.
The Vagrant was slightly offbeat, but overall a nicely worked piece.
The post-apocalyptic setting is well imagined, and it’s nice to see someone successfully pulling off a cross-genre mix of horror and SF, something I have a bit of a soft spot for.
The writing is good, but what had me gritting my teeth from the very outset was the use of present tense, somewhat of a pet hate of mine. And to make it even more of a challenge, the central protagonist is mute — yep, he doesn’t speak through the entire novel. Not only is the main character silent, but he is outside the point-of-view. The book is written in an omniscient viewpoint. I’ve got no particular problem with omniscient, but in that case I really look for the dialogue to express the inner world of the character. In this case that personality is successfully portrayed through the Vagrant’s heroic actions and his consistent integrity, which I enjoyed. I don’t typically go for anti-heroes, so that was a big plus for me.
The world is beautifully crafted, imaginative, and original. I was drawn through the story as much by the quest of the Vagrant to exit the cursed badlands where his journey begins, as by the vast amount of unknown backstory that is slowly drip-fed to the reader.
For me though, a reader who loves being hooked into character, the absence of the Vagrants PoV really hampered my ultimate enjoyment of the novel. Hey, but that’s just me.
Given the fact that the Vagrant has only his non-verbal interactions and his actions in response to challenges to demonstrate his character, Newman does of great job of creating sympathy. I think one of the core vehicles for this is the fact that the Vagrant is the guardian and primary carer for a tiny infant that spends most of the book hidden away in his coat (don’t worry that’s no spoiler! You learn that pretty much on page 1). Having him obviously caring and protecting an defenseless infant goes a long way to creating that sympathetic link between writer and reader.
Nice one Peter!