Tuesday, October 4, 2011

De Achtste Rune - Adrian Stone

This review contains more information in the plot that I usually include. I try not to write spoilerish reviews but sometimes they turn out that way. You have been warned.

One of my goals for this year was read more novels originally written in Dutch. It is October now and so far I have managed to read and review two books that meet that criterium. Past time for another. Adrian Stone is the only author I have followed from his days as a self published novelist. His first novel, Profeet van de Duivel is a great example of two things. That it is possible to be noticed among the heaps of self published material of questionable quality that floods the market, and that professional editing makes a world of difference. The revised version of Profeet van de Duivel was published by Luitingh in 2009, followed by two sequels dealing with the same main character. His fourth book is the beginning of a new duology. Set in the same universe as Profeet van de Duivel, his new novel De Achtste Rune (literally: The Eighth Rune) can be read independently. It does however, contain enough links to the previous trilogy to make it interesting for the readers who enjoyed Stone's older work as well.

Marak, the Carolian monk dedicated to Ava, the goddess of balance, has died. Greatly respected during his later years, he has left behind a book detailing his life and achievements. His biography includes a description of how he managed to physically enter the fourth dimension. An astounding feat of magic that has drawn the attention of Danobe, the newly ascended God-Emperor of Kadish. The religion of Kadish recognizes only one god, aptly known as The One, and his priests are ranked in circles. Each priest wears the rune befitting his station on his forehead. The highest attainable rank is the seventh circle and traditionally there is only one priest who is worthy of that much power: the God-Emperor. Danobe is an ambitious man, the seventh circle not enough for him. He wants the eighth rune, something that no man has achieved since the cataclysm shook Kadish ages ago, and believes Marak's words contain the instructions he needs. To retrieve the heavily guarded relic, he sends two of his subject to Carolia on a seemingly impossible mission.

In his third novel, Ziel van de Duivel, Stone already hints that he would be exploring the wider world the nation of Carolia is located in. Although a lot of the action is still set in that nation, the plot is entirely driven by events in Kadish. Stone describes it as a nation ruled by an conservative class of priests. It is economically stagnant and for large sections of the population, living conditions are hard indeed. Most of the characters in the novel are part of the upper class but the Sword Master Hotar is a reminder of just how difficult life can be in Kadish. Throughout the novel you feel that stresses on society that make a break with tradition inevitable. Although he aims to concentrate even more power in the position of God-Emperor,  Danobe may well have unleashed an avalanche by breaking several religious traditions.

To firmly anchor the series in the world Stone explored before, he introduces Serina, a priestess of Viguru, one of the three gods worshipped in Carolia. She has been captured on a raid by the Kadishians and ends up in captivity. Through Serina, Stone explores two of the major stresses on Kadishain society, the poor position of women and racism. Although the mechanics are not entirely clear, the gift to channel divine energy is inherited. The Kadish priesthood therefore keeps a close eye on the children of the more powerful priests. To increase the chances of raising talented priests, a mother capable of changeling divine power increases the chance of success. Since all priests in Kadish are male, women who are known to be talented must be found elsewhere. In Carolia for instance. With captured priestesses of Viguru relegated to the status of brood mare, a new generation of priests, of which Danobe is the pinnacle, is emerging. They clearly show their potential and their mixed origin. Something not all 'racially pure' Kadishians like.

De Achtste Rune contains a more or less familiar quest as well of course, with the priest Ghelan and Hotar travelling to Carolia to try and retrieve Marak's memoires, but for me, Serina's story line is the linchpin of the novel. Whether or not the reader will like this book depends on a large part on how well the reader feels her story line is handled. I must admit the way the relationship between Serina an her captors develops made me blink once or twice. That being said, the quest part of the novel is a bit more predictable for the experienced fantasy reader so I did enjoy her part of the story more. Ghelan is a bit of a too careful and rather slow to anger in this book. I'd be ready to break some faces the moment I'd have figured out the political motivations of his mission.

Stone tackles some pretty complex problems in this novel but he does so in deceptively straightforward language. He has improved considerably as a writer, especially when it comes to plotting a novel. De Achtste Rune is a very tightly plotted novel. Despite my best efforts to shake out a few loose ends, pretty much everything serves a clear purpose in the narrative. I do feel he should trust the ability of his readers to understand where Stone is taking the story a bit more. Clear language is a gift to some readers but at some points I felt I was being taken by the hand a bit too much. For example:
Toen hij weer opkeek kwam de grootste verrassing. Het havenstadje en alles daarom heen was een troosteloze ravage, gespeend van alle leven. Daar was hij op voorbereid. Wat Ghelan echter verbijsterde was de deken van mist die vanaf de krater in de tempelheuvel over de geruïneerde haven rolde.
Want dit was geen gewone mist!

Hoodstuk 19 - bladzijde 310

This fairly loose translation is mine and probably not perfect. I think I can get my point across without getting it exactly right however.
When he looked up again the biggest surprise came. The port and everything surrounding it, was a desolate waste devoid of all life. He'd been prepared for that. What astonished Ghelan, was the blanket of mist rolling in from the crater in the temple hill, covering the ruined port.
This was no ordinary mist!

Chapter 19 - page 310

Drop that last line! Even without the context of Ghelan stepping out the misty environment of the fourth dimension I get it.That exclamation mark should be in the reader's head. And even if the reader doesn't get it right away, the penny will drop when the repercussions of this event will become clear in the second book of the duology.

This is nitpicking though. On the whole, Stone has delivered another well-crafted novel. De Achtste Rune is a novel that packs a number of interesting and complex themes into an exciting story. Although I would not have minded a bit more ambiguity in some sections of the story, it does help making this into a story that with a wide appeal. A book that will satisfy his established fans as well as win him new ones. A very promising start to the duology from a man who is on his way to becoming one of the big names in Dutch Fantasy. And for me personally, another reminder that I really should read more Fantasy originally written in Dutch.

Book Details
Title: De Achtste Rune
Author: Adrian Stone
Publisher: Luitingh Fantasy
Pages: 351
Year: 2011
Language: Dutch
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-90-245-3562-0
First published: 2011

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