Sunday, July 18, 2010

Heroes of the Fallen: A review

With the bittersweet music of battle over, I found him at dusk, buried amid the mass of his ten thousand. He and I, the last of his legion. Taking my general back up the great hill, halfway up we surveyed the apocalyptic scene. Twenty-three legions in all, completely decimated in a matter of days. He wept. I cannot, there is nothing inside anymore but a burning sadness.

--Heroes of the Fallen, David J. West

I will admit that when I started reading Heroes of the Fallen (WiDo publishing, 2010), I was worried that I was about to wade into a religious tract. I’m not a particularly religious person and its author, David West, is a devout Mormon who drew inspiration for Heroes of the Fallen from the events described in the Book of Mormon.

Ultimately however my fears proved unfounded. West is a man of deep faith, but while religious sentiment informs the work, it does not overwhelm it. Instead, a rousing adventure story is exactly how I’d describe the story.

Heroes of the Fallen is about the build up to a coming war between the Lamanites and the Nephites. After centuries of uneasy peace, the Lamanites, long-time rivals of the Nephites, are fueled into open war by a secret brotherhood called the Gadiantons and a depraved sect of worshippers of the dark god Shagreel. The Lamanites and their allies the Ishmaelites begin a series of political and military machinations, including a series of assassinations and border skirmishes, designed to weaken the Nephites and place blame for the conflict upon them.

The strength of Heroes of the Fallen is its skillful ratcheting up of tension to this coming clash. It’s populated with colorful heroes and villains: Akish-Antum is a memorable villain, a cunning warlord and seer who is also a fearsome warrior who slays with a taloned gauntlet; Bethia, a princess who leaves home and encounters the hard realities of the road, evokes the reader’s sympathy; Mormon, a great bear of a man and an earnest father trying to bring up his son in the midst of the carnage and conflict, is another likeable character. While there are clear heroes and villains, there are also people in the middle like the young prince Aaron, who is swayed to the Gadiantons’ side by his own weaknesses and ambitions, and the Lamanite bodyguard Zelph, whose conscience and faith causes him to defect to the Nephites’ cause.

Heroes of the Fallen is quite violent but not overly gory. There are plenty of battles and they are conveyed with a sense of danger but without over-the-top eviscerations and graphic battlefield carnage. I also enjoyed the sense of history West conveys. The prologue is set some 60 years after the ensuing events in the book and paints a vivid battlefield picture of the terrible trials to come.

Heroes of the Fallen is also a genre-buster. I’d be hard-pressed to give it a label—it inhabits some war-torn battlefield between historic fiction, swords and sorcery, and epic fantasy. At times it feels like sword and sorcery, particularly in the way West writes his characters. These are painted with pulp overtones and bright splashes of color. Amaron has shades of Robert E. Howard’s favorite Cimmerian about him (or perhaps more accurately Solomon Kane, as Amaron is a man of deep faith). You can clearly see West’s sensibilities and literary inspirations in the way the book is written and its dialogue. For example, REH comes leaping off the page in an early duel between the Amaron and Helam and a group of assassins:

Amaron slashed two more of the dagger men as they attempted to flank him, roaring at them, “Jackals of Set! You have never before fought a man with his blade ready for you!” Another man went down, clutching his stump.

But despite its S&S inspiration, the long storyline, multiple characters, and interweaving plot threads of Heroes of the Fallen are all hallmarks of epic fantasy, as is the fact that the story is broken up into at least two (and perhaps multiple) volumes. Which may be why Heroes of the Fallen was not my ideal cup of tea. I found that it featured a few too many characters, and none of them in any great depth. It’s written not unlike George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, told by multiple characters with continually switching point of views.

In addition, I find myself drawn partial to shorter, self-contained works these days, and after 300 pages too much of the story of Heroes of the Fallen remained unresolved. I’ve been burned by A Song of Ice and Fire, and my sufferings with Martin’s overdue for completion epic series may have unfairly biased me against Heroes of the Fallen.

But West did plant some nice hooks to draw readers into Blood of our Fathers, the next in the series with a planned 2011 release. While the arc of character development was slow, by book’s end I could feel myself drawn to the plight of a few characters, including Mormon and Amaron, and I wanted to know how their stories resolve. There’s an excellent apocalyptic duel between Amaron and the Gadianton warrior/tracker Uzzsheol that very much seems to set up events in the sequel.

So in the end I enjoyed Heroes of the Fallen and give massive props to David. He followed his dream, harnessed his Muse, and wrote a fine first book. I hope his success continues to build with Blood of Our Fathers and the additional writing projects he’s pursuing. Heroic fiction needs more authors like him moving the genre forward.


David J. West said...

Thank you very much for the review Brian, I appreciate it.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

excellent review. I'm curious how you found this book?

Daron D. Fraley said...

Brian, I enjoyed your well written review. I have read the book, and I think your words here really do capture the essence of the story. I also look forward to the next in the series!

Sheila said...

Great review! I also read David's book and felt like you harnessed the many great points I also found in this novel. I also agree that Heroic fiction needs more authors pursuing this genre. David is a gifted writer and I know that there are many great books that he will write in the future.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this book.

kbrebes said...

A well written review, Brian. David, I can't wait to get my hands on your book! My husband and son will love it, too!

Brian Murphy said...

David: No problem, it was an enjoyable read!

Tamara: Somehow across cyberspace David and I found each other's blogs and "linked up," since we share some common interests. He sent me a review copy.

Daron/Sheila/Kbrebes: Thanks for the kind words. David put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the writing, I figure the least I could do was give his book a full review.

elizabeth said...

great review! I have read his book and really enjoyed everything about it. From the characters to the setting to the voice--he is very masterful with his style. :)