The Known Lands, whose throne is at the heart of Acacia is under new rule; Corinn Akaran, daughter of the long time king Leodan and widow/former wife to the man who conquered her land, Hanish Mein, rules with an iron fist, preaching love and inclusion while practicing a much different concept of rule. Her brother, Dariel, and sister, Mena, continue their own paths in this new world order as magic is more powerful in the land than ever before. While The War with the Mein, the first installment of David Anthony Durhams sprawling epic fantasy saga Acacia, showed a world shuffling about after the fall of a great leader, The Other Lands could be seen as a novel about the weight of leadership and how easily a leader can become corrupt.
A prologue illustrates the horrors of the Quota – the pogrom in which children are stolen and used either as slaves and/or their life force is sapped to power the boats, machines, and indeed the lives of the Lothan Aklun, one of the nations in the world. This prologue shows a glimpse of the despair and horrors of slave life and how in an instant, a brother and sister can be torn apart.
At the end of The War with the Mein, Corinn gained a world-changing magical artifact – The Song of Elenet – enhancing her sorcerous powers. She is supreme ruler and sorcerer, but also a doting and loving mother. The novel is set approximately 9 years after the conclusion of the first volume, Aidan, Corinn’s son with Meander is now 8 years old and a curious boy who wants to learn sword fighting. He also knows he will one day rule the land. Corinn’s siblings are back in Acacia, Mena has become a great hunter of foulthings monsters which sprouted into being as a result of the Santoth’s powerful unleashing magic at Corinn’s request. The land of Acacia would have been overrun with the Mein had Corinn not unleashed the magic, so we are seeing the price of a quick and decisive victory. Dariel is having a slice of difficulty in finding his place in the empire. Frankly, both of Corinn’s siblings are learning the strangeness of adjusting to Corinn’s rule, a great distance has arisen between the siblings.
The women of this novel take center stage: Corinn the sorcerer queen and Mena the warrior woman. Their journeys and their characters are far from simple or one-dimensional. Corrin is scarred by a life of loss and perceived treachery: her mother died when she was very young (prior to the events of the first novel); her father was murdered when she was young, but she old enough to understand death to a full extent; her brother was killed in battle; and she was a prisoner in her own castle by the man whose forces killed her father and brother, but fell for her captor; the world she lived in was stolen away from her when the truth of its foundation was revealed to her.
For Corinn to be anything but a woman who possesses even a hint of a cold and calculating character would be unrealistic. Rather, we get a woman who sees only one person she can trust: the face she sees in the mirror. The burdens of leadership are heavy and that burden pushes other things to the side with its weight. She is a conflicted character who the world sees as a tyrant and have given her the nickname “Fanged Rose.”
With her power established, Corinn is beset by people wishing to either extinguish that power or bring into their own. A prophet, Barad, makes great speeches throughout the land preaching Aliver’s words of peace and Quota dissolution; a direct contrast to Corinn’s rule. Barad and Grae, the brother of Corrin’s childhood sweetheart, hatch a plan to take hold of her sorcery. Another man, Delivegu, a smarmy minor politician with eyes to the throne and lust in his heart for the Queen tries to get closer to Corinn with secrets he unearths and plot seeds he plants. From her past in The War with the Mein and the present in The Other Lands, it is no wonder Corinn’s trust in men wears away. This; however, is no excuse for her tyrannical, power-controlling behavior and goals of continuing the power plays to control the people of her nation.
Mena, having slayed a goddess and fought in the previous novel’s war, is a warrior woman to the core. As mentioned, she still channels this drive into “cleaning” up the world of the wild foulthings until she arrives at what is thought to be one of the last of these beasts. A creature rumored to be a dragon. A crucial scene between hunter and prey unfolds and soon, the two beings – once enemies – are companions. Mena also finds great joy in her nephew’s presence and soon enough, young Aiden comes to be fascinated with Elya, the ‘dragon’ his aunt bonds with and befriends.
Dariel is sent as an envoy in Corinn’s stead to broker a stronger agreement for the Quota trade – the trade of slaves – in Ushen Brae, the titular Other Lands. This journey takes Dariel across the landscape of the world, over the Grey Slopes and islands the Lothun Aklun call home. Of course, things get a little…unhinged and Dariel finds himself captive of a people about which he (nor any people in Acacia for that matter) never gave much thought.
In each of the first two novels in this series, the incoming leader has goals of ridding the world of the Quota, of slaves, before ascending the throne. A throne, mind you, that both times was gained through violence and the death of the previous throne’s sitter. Hanish Mein wanted to abolish the Quota, but realized how powerful a tool it was to making the world turn. Removing such a foundation proves more difficult than idealistic minds anticipate. Haunting the novel is the specter of Aliver, Corinn’s older brother who was the rightful king of Acacia. His proclamation to rid the Known World of slavery and the mist (an addictive drug used by the ruling class to keep the great unwashed populace in check) is seen by his now ruling sister as a childish dream. While the mist’s hold over the populace was broken thanks to the sorcerous events of the first novel, the Quota is still an unchangeable thing. Corinn seems to embrace the Quota and goes to great lengths to create a new tool to control the populace in the same fashion the mist was used in the past. Rather than an addictive mist, she charges her alchemists to create a wine – the Vintage – which will bring all the people who consume it fully under her sway.
The aforementioned game changer Corinn unleashed, The Song of Elenet, was originally meant for Aliver but as he was killed, Corinn took it for herself in a rather secretive and shifty fashion in the concluding moments of the first novel. Singing the song grants her powers of creation; she can make a dry lake fill with water or create things by singing them into existence. It drains her, but she also doesn’t know of the long-ranging consequences of such magic. Those consequences are only hinted at in The Other Lands, but those hints don’t exactly bode well for her or the world at large.
Durham continues to reveal a story of mythic proportions; of legends coming to life and becoming the legends people in their future will revere and vilify for centuries. He shows that power, once attained, is a difficult thing to let go of and that power’s foundation is a difficult thing to allow to change. In Corinn Akaran, Durham has created a unique villain (perhaps the super-villain protagonist?) as we see a significant portion of the novel from her perspective through the traditional fictional viewpoint of character as hero. She believes she is doing right by the world, but many people, including her family, fear her a great deal.
The Acacia trilogy, after two books, is a powerful Epic in all senses of the word. I have taken my time reading these books without rushing through them, enjoying their splendors for as long as I can. One more book to go, The Sacred Band, and the journey will be completed. If these first two volumes are any indication, that journey will be most rewarding.
© 2013 Rob H. Bedford
Originally published in Hardcover, September 2009
Review copy (Trade Paperback) personal copy 608 pages, 9780385532112
Book to of the Acacia Trilogy
http://www.davidanthonydurham.com/ / http://www.davidanthonydurham.com/novels/otherlands.html
My review of Book One: The War with the Mein
My Review/Reaction on Second reading of The War with the Mein