One Kingdom, The by Sean Russel

The One Kingdom is the first of a sprawling new trilogy entitled The Swans’ War by Sean Russell. Sean Russell has proven his ability as a writer with previous works such as The River Into Darkness, but The One Kingdom is his first take at true High Fantasy. With this opening volume of The Swans’ War, he has succeeded. From the opening chapter, and indeed the opening quote (before the novel even starts) from one of the quarrelling families, we know there will be political intrigue and games of human chess that will leave the mind spinning.

Along with the political machinations of the two families, we are introduced to three young men, Tam, Baore and Fynnol who are adventuring from the home, the Vale. As we are introduced to these three young cousins, they say how they are glad to be free of the constraints of the Vale and free to move about on their own. Along the way, the three meet with Alaan, a mysterious wanderer who helps the young men and is shortly thereafter, seemingly killed by raiders. From the time they meet up with Alaan, their life would have been spent easier had they stayed in the Vale. Thankfully for us readers, they didn’t stay in the Vale.

Another of the many plot threads that Russell skillfully interweaves is the Princess Elise Wills, who with the help of a mysterious helper, escapes here impending marriage to Prince Michael. Prince Michael, as much as he likes Elise, suggests they shouldn’t get married, for it will incite the war between the Wills and the Rennes. However, Prince Michael’s father’s mysterious advisor, Eremon, strives to get the two married to incite this war. Sprinkled throughout the journeys of the Valemen and Elise’s escape are spirits and legends that resonate with history, giving this story and the world Mr. Russell has created a believability and richness that is the mark of a great writer.

Sean Russell has blended many elements in this story to produce not only an enjoyable fantasy novel but a promising trilogy as well. Some are wandering minstrels, story finders, river spirits and men-at-arms. One of these is a story finder named Cynddl, who joins up with our three young Valemen. Cynddl is one of the more interesting characters in the story, a person who can “hear” the echoes of the past in the land, telling the history of what happened. Cynddl not only learns about events physical areas, but we also learn much more about all the other characters in the story because of him. Cynddl is perhaps the most important character in the novel, he knows the lore of the land and seems to know everybody the Valemen and Elise come into contact with, either before or while Cynddl is in their company.

Perhaps the strongest element in this novel, and quite probably this series is the sense of history Mr. Russell has imbued in his world. The legends and myths add a deeper sense of plausibility and truth to the land and story that is not evident in other fantasies today. The world and indeed the people come to life, breathing and speaking out of the pages of the book. Again, as story finder, Cynddl may stand out as one of the most important characters.

Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford

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