Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Review: Acacia [2007]

I believe I picked up Acacia (first in a trilogy) because it was discussed on the SF Signal podcast, but don't hold me to that. Another thing it had going for it--unlike a lot of fantasy epics that have come out recently--was that it was available on audio CD through my library. Written by David Anthony Durham, Acacia is an incredibly dense foray into epic fantasy worthy of comparison to George R. R. Martin.

Acacia is the name of an island that functions the seat of a longstanding empire. What is largely unknown is that Acacian hegemony relies heavily on slavery and opiates to control and maintain the empire's vast ancestral holdings. Emperor Leodan Akaran, while portrayed as a basically good man, has inherited a deeply flawed system, as well as four children to raise upon the untimely death of his wife. When Leodan is struck down by an assassin from an enemy race of northmen known as the Mein, he sets in motion a plan to send his children into safety. Crown Prince Aliver and his younger siblings Mena and Dariel grow to adulthood in different corners of the Known World, while eldest sister Corinn is kept alive in captivity by the Mein as a future tool for ritual sacrifice to their undead ancestors. When the time comes to wrest control of the empire back from the Mein, things do not quite go as Aliver forsees in his zeal to bring freedom and justice to his inherited kingdom.

Grade: B+

I enjoyed the sometimes unexpected directions that Acacia took. The book had a lot more breadth of action and covered a longer time span than I had expected when I first decided to read it. Like Martin, Durham populates his book with many viewpoints from people other than the royal children, including many of the antagonists, a grizzled war veteran, the emperor's trusted adviser, and so on. There aren't as many women as I would like, unfortunately. However, one of Acacia's best features is a great deal of ethnic diversity among the cast. The action centers around an equatorial island, Acacia, and the royal children--each a major point of view character--are (gasp) not white. I can't even begin to tell you how refreshing this was.

Durham does an excellent job of capturing the coils of a political struggle as well as each individual's struggle for power. When the empire changes hands, its new Meinish ruler finds himself presented with the same obstacles and making similar compromises as his predecessor--much like an optimistic president who finds himself compromising his platform away when faced with the choice of getting nothing done or making difficult decisions. I am looking forward to seeing where Durham goes next after the book's fairly self-contained ending. Judging by book one, I'm guessing it's going to end badly for several characters.

Dead Mother: Yes
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