The Other Lands: A mixed bag

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsepic fantasy book review David Anthony Durham Acacia The War With the Mein 2. The Other LandsThe Other Lands by David Anthony Durham

PLOT SUMMARY: Several years have passed since the demise of Hanish Mein. Corinn Akaran rules with an iron grip on the Known World’s many races. She hones her skills in sorcery by studying The Book of Elenet and dotes on her young son, Aaden — Hanish’s child — raising him to be her successor. Mena Akaran, still the warrior princess she became fighting the eagle god Maeben, has been battling the monsters released by the Santoth’s corrupted magic. In her hunt she discovers a creature wholly unexpected, one that awakens long suppressed emotions in her. And Dariel Akaran, once a brigand of the Outer Isles, has devoted his labors to rebuilding the ravaged empire brick by brick. Each of the Akaran royals is finding their way in the post-war world, but the queen’s peace is difficult to maintain, and things are about to change.

When the League brings news of upheavals in the Other Lands, Corinn sends Dariel across the Grey Slopes as her emissary. From the moment he sets foot on that distant continent, he finds a chaotic swirl of treachery, ancient grudges, intrigue and exoticism. He comes face to face with the slaves his empire has long sold into bondage. His arrival ignites a firestorm that once more puts the Known World under threat of invasion — a massive invasion that dwarfs anything the Akarans have yet faced.

CLASSIFICATION: The ACACIA TRILOGY is epic fantasy fueled by compelling characters, realistic world-building and powerful storytelling in the vein of George R.R. Martin, Stephen R. Donaldson, Jacqueline Carey and Brian Ruckley, but defined by David Anthony Durham’s unique historical fiction-influenced viewpoint.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 464 pages divided over a Prologue, 3 titled Books, and 51 chapters. The Other Lands also includes a map of the Known World and the Other Lands, and a detailed summary of the first book. Narration is in the third person via several different characters, including returning POVs Corinn Akaran, her brother and sister Dariel and Mena, and Corinn’s councillor Rialus Neptos. Other POVs include the leaguemen Sire Neen and Sire Dagon, Barad the Lesser, Avril’s former companion Kelis Umae, Corinn’s informant Delivegu Lemardine, and Mór, a Known World slave now living in The Other Lands. The Other Lands is the second volume in the ACACIA TRILOGY after Acacia: The War with the Mein, and ends on a cliffhanger.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSeptember 15, 2009 marks the North American hardcover publication of The Other Lands via Doubleday. The US cover art, which was originally used for the German edition of Acacia: The War With the Mein, is provided by Mikko Kinnunen. The UK edition of The Other Lands will be published on October 22, 2009 by Transworld.

ANALYSIS: David Anthony Durham’s first attempt at fantasy (Acacia: The War with the Mein) was a successful one and left many readers excited for the sequel, myself included. While The Other Lands doesn’t quite measure up to the standards set by its predecessor, the second volume in the ACACIA TRILOGY is another strong effort, once again led by David’s accomplished and poised writing, rich characterization, and world-building that wonderfully reflects the cultural and racial diversity of our own world.

On the flip side, I didn’t think the characters were as emotionally engrossing as they were in Acacia: The War With the Mein. I also felt that some of the POV choices, like Sire Neen and Delivegu Lemardine, were questionable, while others, such as Mór, were underutilized. As far as the world-building, it was great to finally be able to visit the Other Lands and learn more about the Lothan Aklun and the Auldek as well as the League of Vessels, but for the most part I felt that David Anthony Durham barely scratched the surface of these peoples’ interesting customs and philosophies.

Story-wise, The Other Lands is a mixed bag. On the one hand, there’s a lot going on in the book including the many problems faced by Queen Corinn: being pressured to marry and have a legitimate heir; quelling an uprising among the Known World’s common people; eradicating the foulthings created by the Santhoth’s corrupted magic; continuing to enforce the quota trade through a slave factory; deciding whether or not to reintroduce mist to the populace; famine; loss of trade; succession issues due to her sibling’s offspring; the unknown consequences of using the Song of Elenet; and so on. Add in conspiracies among the Numrek and the League of Vessels, a lizard/bird creature that Mena befriends, a nine-year-old girl who journeys in search of the Santhoth, Dariel’s trials faced in the Other Lands, and shocking revelations about the Auldek, Lothan Aklun, and what happens to the slaves, and there’s more than enough happening in The Other Lands to keep readers entertained.

On the other hand, there are problems with the story’s execution. Pacing is languorous and never seems to accelerate past a jog, a number of subplots take forever to develop, and the manner in which surprising information is revealed is anticlimactic to say the least. To make matters worse, The Other Lands is clearly a bridge novel, comprised primarily of setup and nearly zero resolutions, although the last chapter goes a long way in overshadowing the aforementioned issues.

The Other Lands creatively is also a mixed bag, in particular the magic system that revolves around the Giver’s tongue and many of the issues that Corinn has to deal with as a queen. Conversely, I loved the dangers faced by those traveling across the Gray Slopes (the Barrier Ridge, sea wolves, the angerwall), the soul catcher and its frightening properties, the totem clans of the Auldek, and David’s imaginative fauna (tenten, kwedeir, frékete, antoks, Elya) which are brought to life with startling vividness.

In the end, David Anthony Durham’s The Other Lands shares many of the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor, but because of a story that is mostly setup, less engaging character arcs, lethargic pacing, and questionable decisions regarding big reveals and POVs, the second volume in the ACACIA TRILOGY falls decidedly short of the mark left by the superb Acacia: The War with the Mein. Nevertheless, much of this can be forgiven because The Other Lands is a middle volume and because these are issues that can be easily remedied, but more so because the novel promises a spectacular finish to the ACACIA TRILOGY.

Acacia — (2007-2011) Available from Audible. Publisher: Leodan Akaran, ruler of the Known World, has inherited generations of apparent peace and prosperity, won ages ago by his ancestors. A widower of high intelligence, he presides over an empire called Acacia, after the idyllic island from which he rules. He dotes on his four children and hides from them the dark realities of traffic in drugs and human lives on which their prosperity depends. He hopes that he might change this, but powerful forces stand in his way. And then a deadly assassin sent from a race called the Mein, exiled long ago to an ice-locked stronghold in the frozen north, strikes at Leodan in the heart of Acacia while they unleash surprise attacks across the empire. On his deathbed, Leodan puts into play a plan to allow his children to escape, each to their separate destiny. And so his children begin a quest to avenge their father’s death and restore the Acacian empire — this time on the basis of universal freedom.

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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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