Strange Wordings

Thoughts on fantasy, science fiction and genre writing in general . . . stuff that's strange.

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Location: Fredericksburg, Virginia

These Blogs are largely about the process of coercing words out of my head (at times I convince myself that I am a novelist). Thoughts about current reading and/or fantasy literature and writing in general may disgorge at random.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Review: The Prodigal Troll

Charles Coleman Finlay's debut fantasy novel, The Prodigal Troll, shines in its compelling and powerfully imaginative treatment of dissonant cultures in conflict. Finlay manages to do well in a single piece what so many fantasy authors cannot, even in the multiple-volume sagas currently in vogue: weave a rich tapestry of hitherto unknown cultures and tell a damn good story to boot. Prodigal Troll neither takes on the creation of all the minutiae of an entire world, nor does it expound at excruciating length on the politics and economics of numerous kingdoms and empires with unpronounceable names.

An empire expanding its borders invades a wide and fertile valley, the territory of a tribal people. Technologically and militarily advanced, the empire inevitably pushes the tribes to the fringes of the mountains beyond the valley. However, the conquest completed, the center of the empire now seeks to curb the autonomy of the periphery, in particular the conquering hero Lord Gruethrist. Knowing that he cannot resist directly, Gruethrist plans to take to the hills as a rebel, hoping eventually to force a favorable settlement. There is one problem with this plan; Gruethrist's infant son, Claye.

With imperial forces besieging his castle, Gruethrist entrusts Claye to a knight and a nursemaid. These guardians slip away in the night with the infant, but before they can reach safety, they meet their deaths in the wild hills. A mother troll, grieving over the death of her infant daughter, finds Claye and adopts him as her own child. Claye grows into manhood among the mountain-dwelling trolls. When he desires to take a mate, however, his otherness leads him down from the mountains toward the settlements of men, just as the tribes begin to chafe again at the ascendancy of the invaders.

Jacket blurbs compare Prodigal Troll to LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness and Burrough's Tarzan stories. Perhaps these are apt comparisons, given some similar themes and plot devices; but Finlay brings his own strong, confident style to bear upon these themes. The fan of LeGuin and the fan of Burroughs should not expect to find a merely concurrent voice in Finlay. The Prodigal Troll works well enough on its own merits.

If there is a serious weakness in Prodigal Troll, it would be found at the ending. Without spoiling the book, it must suffice to say that Finlay concludes the book in an abrupt manner. The actions and motivations of the characters at this point do not entirely make sense. However, the ending works better by remembering that the opening scene of the novel belongs, chronologically, at the conclusion, and by assuming that Finlay sets up a sequel by ending The Prodigal Troll in this way

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