Published by Tor
Hardcover, April 2010
High Fantasy continues to be the dominant branch of the Fantasy tree on the market, and every year a new author aims to make a mark in the genre with the help of publishers and fandom. In 2011, Tor books would have fans of the genre believe that Peter Orullian’s debut novel, The Unremembered, be that explosive novel and writer to take readers’s imaginations by storm.
Orullian has the formula down very well in The Unremembered – naïve youth (the woodland archer Tahn Junell) plucked from his hum-drum life by outsiders (the cleric-like Sheason by the name of Vendanj and his companion the warrior woman Mira), to secure his help in vanquishing a mysterious evil that is returning to the land. Reading through the first hundred to two hundred pages, I was very much reminded of the way Robert Jordan began The Eye of the World, itself a homage to The Lord of the Rings. These reminiscent elements include: the returning amorphous evil and its minions of monstrous humans the Quietbourne; the Sheason, a clandestine order who practice magic (Will and the Forda I’Forza) and safeguard history; the League of Civility (dedicated to keeping the Sheason from practicing their arcane lore); and even the mantra Tahn continually repeats in his head before shooting his bow are the major elements that resemble or echo such ingredients in other fantasies like The Wheel of Time.
One character in whom Orullian adds some depth, or his own flavor, to the formula is Tahn’s sister Wendra. Wendra has suffered a great deal in her life, having been raped prior to the start of the novel and having her child ripped from her womb at novel’s beginning.
Joining Tahn and Wendra in being pulled from their home of the Hollows by Vendanj and Mira are their farmer friend Sutter and their bookish friend Braethen. So we’ve got a friendly fellowship here that is broken apart fairly early with the collective goal of reaching a sacred place. Tahn and Sutter form one duo, Wendra and the young boy Penit who joins their group before the breaking another duo, Vendanj and Mira the final duo. By breaking up the core group, Orullian explores the individual characters in greater depth. He highlights Wendra’s loss and yearning coupled with her growing gifts; Sutter and Than learn they are more alike than they initially believed; and Mira’s sacrifice becomes a burden she has difficulty reconciling with her growing feelings. Whilre Orullian managed to build a believable friendship between Sutter and Tahn and great core of sorrow and regret in Wendra, he was unable to really make Vendanj stand out as anything other than a hard-lined mentor who offered little more than a gruff, stiff exterior and a stinginess with knowledge that reminded me of the frustration I had with Terry Brooks’ mentor character Allanon.
The world in which these characters live has a great deal of depth which is hinted by the dense and intriguing prologue. Here, Orullian mines nothing less than Paradise Lost for the fall preceded by pride and shows higher powers that can be just as contentious and vain as the best and worst of humanity. Orullian has a lot to play with and it becomes clear that the prologue is table setter for the novel as well as the series, The Vault of Heaven.
So where does that leave my assessment of The Unremembered? Conflicted, at the very least. Orullian’s prose worked very well for me, I found the near purplish prose somewhat reminiscent of what Stephen R. Donaldson achieved with his Thomas Covenant novels – he more than simply tells the story, Orullian layers the narrative with resonant epic overtones. Sometimes the dialogue is not as strong as the narrative itself, but what often worked well for me was the emotion conveyed through Tahn and Wendra’s words. Other times, particularly when Vendanj spoke, the dialogue came across as stiff and at times like a dry history lesson. When Peter Orullian employed a story-within-a-story narrative from minor characters like Rolen, a greater sense of majesty and emotional punch was evident.
Clearly, Tor has high hopes for Peter Orullian’s The Unremembered, and I wanted to like the book a great deal. The flashes of powerful writing don’t appear as often in the narrative as one would hope, but those flashes do hint at greater things to come in subsequent novels. The foundation Orullian has built in The Unremembered for The Vault of Heaven, as a series, is quite promising. Seasoned readers of the genre will find much in The Unremembered that is extremely familiar to them and may be frustrated by the echoes of writers and novels who have come before. As a ‘gateway’ novel to the genre, The Unremembered is more successful. On the whole, I enjoyed the novel and found Orullian’s narrative pull almost magnetic – I wanted to learn what would happen next to these characters. Ultimately I can’t come down overly negative or with the highest praise for the novel, which is frustrating as a reader. For the most part (aside from Vendanj’s monologues) Orullian managed to keep my interest in “what happens next” quite high, so in that respect, he did his job well. I’d also like to point out the book has a gorgeous cover by Kekai Kotaki. What I can say is I would read the next novel in the series and find that both Orullian’s hints of things to come, and the base for the series both shows potential.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford