Heir of Autumn: Flawed but compelling debut

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Giles Carwyn Todd Fahnestock Heir of Autumn, Mistress of WinterHeir of Autumn by Giles Carwyn & Todd Fahnestock

I started Heir of Autumn with skepticism because (1) it’s a first novel (2) by two guys who’ve been friends since high school (3) that begins with a nubile young woman fondling herself as part of her sorcerous training. A few times during the first few chapters, I considered returning it to the library and writing it off as another botched heroic fantasy epic.

Fortunately, I read on.

The bulk of the story occurs in the fabled city-state of Ohndarien, the “jewel of the known world,” founded as the dream of four families and ruled by their descendents, The Children of the Seasons, who comprise an eight-member council (one man and woman representing each season/house). The story revolves around the titular character, Brophy, and the struggle by him and his allies against political intrigue within Ohndarien; the threat of invasion by the kingdom from which the city-state succeeded; and the curse of a fallen city of sorcerers manifested in the form of a dreaming child. (In this and other ways, the tale is reminiscent of George Martin’s A Game of Thrones: a civil war erupts against the backdrop of a supernatural threat (the Others in Martin’s saga).

To reveal more of plot would be both difficult and spoiling, though this raises one of the main flaws in the novel. Rarely is an epic fantasy novel too short, but Heir of Autumn is. The story moves at breakneck speed — few paragraphs are longer than three sentences — and the development of characters and emotional resonance falters as a result. (In the opening chapters, the plot also seems to drive the characters, instead of vice versa.) In 465 pages of lean paragraphs are the introduction of the main characters and a tour of Ohndarien; rape; an ambassador’s visit; a sorcerous graduation; a smorgasbord of sex (warranting an NC-17 rating); false accusations; exile; gladiatorial training and games; abundant plots and counter-plots; secret passages for numerous escapes; cave diving; post-hypnotic commands; magical swords; siege; war; gallons of blood; and true heroism. For many readers, the pace may be a good thing, but those who like to savor deep, rich draughts of fantasy (like the works of Patricia McKillip and Guy Gavriel Kay) may find Heir of Autumn too airy.

That said, Carwyn and Fahnestock deserve special commendation for such a rewarding culmination to the epic’s first book. Heir’s strength is its plot, as the authors sometimes show their inexperience through info-dumps (including at least one instance of the infamous “As we both know… ” device in a conversation between two characters on p. 29), weakness in handling points of view (including the relegation of some important scenes and events off-stage), and uneven dialogue (including a fondness for unnecessary dialogue tags — “’Gods!’” [he] cursed). In addition to the pacing, dialogue is Heir’s largest flaw: sometimes the characters sound like the otherworldly heroes they aspire to be; sometimes they sound like test-readers for a teenage TV melodrama. Unless the authors weave a similarly strong plot into the sequel — something that would be remarkable — these flaws will have to be mended to produce a comparable effort.

Heir of Autumn is a worthwhile read for mature fans of heroic fantasy and, for those with the pocket change, is worth considering as a new purchase. A good debut. Four stars.

The Heartstone Trilogy — (2006-2008) Publisher: A young man forced into a fight for survival… A concubine sorceress seduced into the ultimate test of will… An enigmatic spy in love with a forbidden queen… And a reawakened evil that could remake the world. Introducing a major new talent, this riveting fantasy debut brings alive a richly imagined tale of brutal combat, sexual intrigue, and sinister magic in a world where one must always struggle to survive. A bastion of freedom and justice in a brutal world, the city-state of Ohndarien is ruled by the Children of the Seasons, four brave men and women tested before the awesome Heartstone and sworn to place the needs of others before their own. When Brophy, the Heir of Autumn, is falsely accused of murder, the city-state falls to treachery and deceit. Exiled to an enemy kingdom, Brophy’s only chance for survival lies in the deadly gladiatorial game of Nine Squares and the uncertain favors of its beautiful queen. Meanwhile, enslaved by the brutal perfidy of her master, the young courtesan Shara must face her deepest fears and darkest desires if she is to free herself from the web of foul sorcery that ensnares her magic and her very soul. But as Ohndarien fights for justice, evil powers, lost for centuries, wake in the wilderness, and an ancient terror walks the world again.

Giles Carwyn Todd Fahnestock: 1. Heir of Autumn 2. Mistress of Winter 3. Queen of OblivionGiles Carwyn Todd Fahnestock: Heir of Autumn, Mistress of WinterGiles Carwyn Todd Fahnestock: 1. Heir of Autumn 2. Mistress of Winter 3. Queen of Oblivion


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ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.

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