I picked up a copy of Profeet van de Duivel (literally: The Devil's Prophet) in early 2007. The first version of this book appeared under the author's real name, Ad van Tiggelen, and was published by a publishing on demand company Gopher. The book did well enough to catch the attention of Luitingh Fantasy, one of the two major publishers of Fantasy in the Netherlands. The reissued it after a solid round op professional editing under the pseudonym Adrian Stone. Dutch publishers seem to have the strange notion that an English sounding name will help sell the book abroad. For the English language market, sales definitely do not inspire confidence in this theory. Profeet van de Duivel was followed by two sequels, Zoon van de Duivel en Ziel van de Duivel. I've reviewed those books already on this blog. I didn't want to base a review of Profeet van de Duivel on the Gopher edition however, so the review of book one had to wait for me to get my hands on the Luitingh edition. I think this is the first time I paid twice for the same book.
The story of main character Marak begins when the Catarist religious order he's been forced into, is violently suppressed. Their leader Zabatha, also known as the Prophet, has been taken captive. In recent years his followers have made a bloody attempt at gaining worldly power and the religious war that followed shook the kingdom of Carolia on its foundations. With the Prophet safely put away, rebuilding can now begin. For Marak the future looks bleak. During introduction into the Catarist order he has been forced to sacrifice one of his fingers to their dark god and he is now forever branded as a follower of a religion that brought death and destruction. His talent for channelling divine power is so impressive that he is granted a chance to test for one of the other religious orders in Carolia. After a nerve wrecking test, Marak is taking in by the followers of Ava, the god providing balance.
Year pass and although Marak is seen as an outsider by most of the order, he is without a doubt one of the more promising students. Cataris is not about to leave such a talented diciple alone however and when Marak makes the mistake of channelling his power in a place where Ava cannot be reached, he is expelled from the order. Outside the walls of the abbey he finds that the influence of Cataris is on the rise again. Carolia is heading for a new conflict with his tenacious followers and Marak finds himself right in the middle of it. Choosing sides proves difficult when the link to Marak's past and old religion appears impossible to sever.
I expected quite a bit of editing and perhaps a bit of rewriting for this new edition. I've reread some passages in the original publication and I can clearly see evidence of some serious editing but the rewriting seems to have been kept to a minimum. One part of the story that seems to have been rewritten is Marak's first visit to the island of Furka, a place that will also play an important part in later books. I also got the impression that the climax of the novel received a lot of attention from the editors. Some of it has definitely done the book a world of good, it reads faster than the original and has a more polished feel to it. On the other hand I did get the impression it was edited towards the kind of fantasy which Luitingh likes to publish. Novels not to complicated in terms of plot and language, with the real thematic complexities hidden in nooks and crannies where the reader can safely ignore them in favour of a thrilling story and of course conforming to generally accepted tropes of the genre. With the emphasis on religion and spirituality in the book is properly used, this novel could have distinguished itself a bit more from the mass of epic fantasy which is currently being translated into Dutch.
A bit of a missed opportunity as religion is without a doubt the most complex aspect of this novel. Stone describes four gods and their religious orders as well as the relations between them and the inevitable politics this involves. They do not get in the way of a very fast paced story however. Stone reveals more in the sequels but never quite enough to satisfy a fan of epic fantasy worldbuilding. I suspect the ascension of Cataris, who once walked the earth as a human being, would make a very nice prequel to this existing series. From the hits Stone drops in his story it must have been quite a dramatic event. Whether the other deities have human origins as well remains a mystery.
Another aspect that stands out in this book is the development of Marak's character. He doesn't have a particularly easy childhood. Moving form the clutches of a cult condoning human sacrifice to an order that does not really want him in their midst, Marak is an outsider for most of his life. Stone portrays him as a man who keeps his distance from people (usually with good reason). His past as part of the Catarists' cult hangs above him like a dark cloud. Part of the climax of this novel is facing this dark past but his connection to Cataris carries over to the next novels as well.
With Profeet van de Duivel Stone performed a feat not many authors ever manage, to rise above the mass of self published material and become a professional author. Or at least as professional as possible in a market that is too small to support full time authors. This fact alone makes it a noteworthy release in Dutch speculative fiction. I must admit that upon rereading it, I thought the next two books are better. Marak matures a bit in those books and Stone experiments with multiple story lines to an extend that Profeet van de Duivel can't match. There's clearly progression in the quality of the writing. As such, Profeet van de Duivel is a very enjoyable read but not a brilliant book in itself. It's a promise, a sign that, yes, it is possible to write fantasy in Dutch and get published and that the genre may aspire to more than the current, somewhat amateurish state most active writers find themselves in. But above all, let's not forget that, it is the start of what could be a very interesting writing career. Stone is an author I will keep an eye on in years to come.
Title: Profeet van de Duivel
Author: Adrian Stone
Publisher: Luitingh Fantasy
First published: 2009