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Acacia: Book One: The War With the Mein by David Anthony Durham

Acacia, The War With the Mein, David Anthony Durham, fiction, novel, fantasyI was in my local bookstore recently, saw the cover to this novel and thought it looked interesting, so I picked it up to read the jacket. I’ve put it on my list for later. Every time I see a book or hear of a book that sounds interesting, I make a note of it, sometimes in my PDA and sometimes in a file on Google Docs if I’m near a computer. I use to make a mental note, but then I would forget, so now I make a point to write it down. Just the other day I was reading a forum about fantasy novels — in particular I think it might have been a George R.R. Martin forum — and someone mentioned a fantasy series that, in his/her opinion, was better than Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. I thought I could remember the name of the author and series, but after only a day or two, I had already forgotten.

Below is a review of Acacia from The Washington Post. If anyone has read the novel, I’d be interested to know how you liked it.

The Akaran royal children in David Anthony Durham’s thrilling Acacia bear a passing resemblance to the scrappy siblings from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Aliver, heir to the throne of the Known World, worries that he doesn’t have the stuff to be king; Corinn, his sister, is beautiful, deceptively shallow and adept with a bow and arrow; Mena, the younger sister, is courageous and astute; and Dariel, the youngest, tends to wander off where he shouldn’t. But the world that Durham has created for them is far grimmer, and far more sophisticated, than Lewis’s charming Narnia.

From the first pages of Acacia, Durham, a respected historical novelist, demonstrates that he is a master of the fantasy epic. He quickly sets out in broad strokes the corrupt world that these unwitting children have been raised to rule. For 22 generations, the Akarans have presided over the empire of Acacia. And for 22 generations, they’ve sent a yearly shipment of child slaves to mysterious traders beyond their borders, “with no questions asked, no conditions imposed on what they did with them, and no possibility that the children would ever see Acacia again.” In exchange, the Akarans get “mist,” a drug that guarantees their subjects’ “labor and submission.” I give nothing away when I say that this empire is doomed. In the opening pages, an assassin from the Meins — a “bickering people” from the frozen North, “as harsh and prone to callousness as the landscape they inhabited”

— is on his way to the capital city with his sights set on King Leodan, the children’s kind and hapless father. The Akaran children must flee their sumptuous palace for hostile country, with no god-like lion poised to give his life for theirs. The Acacian god, the Giver, has forsaken them. Durham sacrifices nothing — not psychological acuity, not political

complexity, not lyrical phrases — as he drives the plot of this gripping book forward. The names of people and places sound as if they’ve been recalled from a dusty past, not cobbled from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a far too common practice among fantasy writers. Tropes that sound outlandish — “dream-travel,” for one — are credible in Durham’s telling. And the story always surprises. Characters that seem poised to take center stage are killed abruptly. Evil often triumphs.

The rickety supports that grand empires rest on clearly fascinate Durham — the long-time advisers who have grown resentful, the client states that fake their willing submission, the trading monopoly that sees profit in regime change. And the Akaran aristocracy is deaf to the rumblings beneath them. Hanish, the clear-eyed leader of the Meins and architect of the coming disaster, relishes their complacency: “Better that his coming shock them to the core and leave them reeling and grasping for meaning, too late to recognize the true shape and substance of the world they lorded over.”

When the empire falls, it does so quickly and horrifically. Palace guards and household servants slaughter their masters. The Meinish have allied with the Numrek, “screaming, stomping, mirthful agents of carnage,” who cut a gruesome swath through the land. Plague strikes the Acacian army, and its soldiers sweat blood and “lay prostrate in writhing intimacy with the earth.” The dead are past counting.

But as exciting as all this is, the collapse of the Akaran empire is only the beginning of this grand tale. Aliver, Mena and Dariel, raised anonymously and separately in quiet corners of the fallen empire, become warriors eager to redeem “the rotten heart of Acacia,” while Corinn, a captive in the palace where she grew up, plots bloody revenge from within. How will it all end? If the first volume of this projected series is any indication, in brilliant — and brutal — defiance of fantasy conventions.

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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4 thoughts on “Acacia: Book One: The War With the Mein by David Anthony Durham”

  1. Hey Steven, I’ve read this book! Of course, I also wrote it, so my opinion is not to be trusted. (It’s really good, though.)

    I’m just writing to say hi. I hope you do give the book a shot. With your interest in fantasy and historical fiction I’d like to think you’d appreciate my approach. It’s a fantasy novel, yes, but I wrote it much as I wrote my novel about Hannibal Barca, PRIDE OF CARTHAGE – with a focus on political complexity, with good and bad in display on both sides, with idealism paramount but also challenged (and defeated on occasion).

    If you do get to it please let me know what you think. There’s an email address available at my website and I’m always interested in comments on my blog.



  2. David, looking forward to reading it. I’ll definitely let you know how I liked it. I have no doubts it will do well.

    I’ve also subscribed to your blog, so I can keep up with the latest news.

    I’ve taken a similar approach, as well, with the novel I’m currently writing. It’s my first attempt at a novel, and it’s a fantasy, but I’ve put a lot of research into the setting, which I’ve based on medieval England and France of the late 12th, early 13th centuries.

    Good luck with everything, stay in touch.


  3. Steven, good luck with that book. Enjoy the research. Live in it. Take that journey first and make it a good one – readers will follow!

    Thanks for subscribing. I’ll try to make the blog a mix of things that doesn’t get too boring.

    All the best, David.

  4. Pingback: - The Creative Writing of Author, Novelist, and Fiction Writer Steven Till

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