Lords of Rainbow: Epic fantasy with no baggage

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsepic fantasy book reviews Vera Nazarian Lords of RainbowLords of Rainbow by Vera Nararian

A decade ago, I was a big fan of secondary-world fantasies: big sprawling epic plots, an entirely different but familiar setting, and larger than life characters. Had I read Lords of Rainbow back then, I would have immediately fallen in love with it. As I am now, however, there’s a lot less unabashed praise for that particular sub-genre and I’ve become more critical.

What’s obviously commendable with Vera Nazarian is that her cosmology isn’t a random hodgepodge of ideas but rather a cohesion of a single, united vision. As can be gleaned from the title, the rainbow — or rather the colors of the rainbow — plays a consistent role all throughout the novel. Right from the very start, one gets a sense that the narrative has its own unique culture as Nazarian uses alien terms and expressions, references unfamiliar pantheons, and uses fanciful naming schemes.

For me, however, this elaborate world-building is sometimes detracting. There are a couple of scenes of pure exposition as the author explains how the world works, and these have an unfortunate effect of halting whatever momentum has been achieved. For example, as we enter the second part of the novel, Nazarian vividly describes a city, mentioning its districts, its divisions (both social and geographical), and its social hierarchy. Suddenly, I’m reading Lords of Rainbow: The RPG Campaign Setting. It’s not that I don’t want exposition in my novels, but does it have to be ten pages long? On the positive side, the author does create an imaginative world that’s not merely a rehash of J.R.R. Tolkien. Whether such exposition is a welcome part of the reading experience is best left for the reader to decide; but personally, I was hooked more by the plot and the characters than by this discourse on world building.

Thankfully, the book doesn’t open with such dragging exposition. Lords of Rainbow excites and immediately hooks you, with its enigmatic narrator, its multi-faceted protagonists, and the fight scene in the first chapter that whets one’s appetite. Once we get midway through the book, Nazarian captivates us with her compelling prose and her upbeat pace, which is a very distinct experience from my complaints above and transforms this into a can’t-put-down book. There’s a really effective seduction scene for example, effective because it not only exuberates an air of sensuality while revealing little, but actually progresses the plot and fleshes out the characters rather than simply being included to titillate.

Reading Lords of Rainbow rekindled my love for epic fantasy and Nazarian makes good use of its tropes, at the same time leaving room for surprise and revelation — certainly a welcome experience to a jaded reader like me who typically sees nothing but formula and cliché. Another praiseworthy element is that while this book is as epic as one can ever imagine, it’s self-contained and the author succeeds in this by focusing on the core characters of her story. Admittedly, if you’re not a fan of epic fantasy, I doubt this book will change your mind.

Reading the first hundred pages, I was skeptical of the quality of the novel but once I got past that hurdle, Lords of Rainbow was a fun and breathtaking read. If you’re looking for some original epic fantasy without the baggage of a too-inflated cast or multi-volume investment, this is the book for you, as it’s probably best described as a microcosm of said sub-genre.

Lords of Rainbow — (2002) Publisher: Imagine a world without color, illuminated by a gray sun… Imagine a sudden brilliant flash — an artificial orb ignites, filled with peculiar impossible light… The nature of this light bears no description. It lingers in dreams, inciting an unrequited love for a goddess. A corrupt city is shaped like a perfect wheel, and is ruled by a sister and brother, Regent and Regentrix, by perverse desires, and by a secret… A loyal warrior woman swears to serve a mysterious lord. At the same time, an epic invasion is precipitated by a being of utter darkness, who is the one absolute source of black in a monochrome silver world. And amid all this, flickers an ancient memory of a phenomenon called Rainbow and of those who had once filled the world with an impossible thing called color… Lords of Rainbow.

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CHARLES TAN, one of our guest reviewers, is the owner of the blogs Bibliophile Stalker and Comic Quest. He also edits Philippine Speculative Fiction. You can read his fiction in that publication and in The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories. Charles has conducted interviews for The Nebula Awards and The Shirley Jackson Awards, as well as for online magazines such as SF Crowsnest and SFScope. He is a regular contributor to sites like SFF Audio and Comics Village.

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