|Submitted by Bryan Wiezorick|
(Jan 06, 2001)
In the wee hours, I prefer a good adventure tale set in some faraway place, some alien land of wonder and mystery. I prefer a hero with motives I can believe in, as well as villains that ring sympathetic. One day, I found that place and that hero. In a place called Mistra.... "The Silence of Mistra" is the first effort of author Jim Braun, a fantasy about a young knight's quest for a stolen treasure map. I could go into the plot but I won't bother much here. I can only say: Discover it for yourself. What I will go into is how enjoyable I found the characters. "Mistra" is a character-driven story, each adventurer along to find and return the stolen map given demons that poke and prod them as the story spirals towards a dazzling (and somewhat tragic) conclusion. Rather than the usual heros or villains one might find in the usual grand Tolkien-like epic, this is one of the few stories I've read that concerns itself more with the human side of fantasy, effectively grounding this wonderous tale in a rock-solid reality. Menacing creatures abound, elves lurk in the shadows, but not one wizard can be found gracing the pages. The author takes the standard fantasy formula and flips it on its ear, delivering a world where magic may exist, elves may exist, the supernatural may exist. None of this is simply taken for granted by the characters, as in some tales, though all of it is here, waiting to pounce. When it does, our heros find themselves in a virtual obstacle course of one calamity after another as they strive to return the legendary map to their superiors. But it is the moral struggle of the story's main hero, his shattered soul half-shrouded in darkness, that truly got me into some serious late night reading. It is the dilemma of its heroine, a female knight trying to rise above her meager station in a world of men (women in the military, anyone?) that tickled my heartstrings. And it was the personal losses in the backstory of one character, the dwarf Oliver, that nearly moved me to tears. But enough poetry. I was transported--enough said! An unusual, swashbuckling blend of Tolkien, Herman Melville, Horatio Hornblower--and even America's own history. If I had to comment on a flaw, it would be that there is almost too much imagination used here. The climactic battle with a band of evil elves out to reclaim their lost land comes in somewhat awkwardly, despite Braun's foreshadowing of the elves' existence. So be warned. Other than that, though, I found this to be an explosive, highly enlightening reading experience!