|Submitted by Jeremy Morris |
(Apr 15, 2002)
Path of Glory, by Bret M. Funk, has all the clichés: reclusive Elves, powerful magicians, and long-forgotten evil in a pre-industrial society. But if you thought the classic fantasy novel had nothing left to offer, think again. Told mainly from the intimate perspective of two intriguing, three-dimensional characters, Funk puts a realistic and thought-provoking spin on the typical sword-and-sorcery tale. This first book in the Boundary's Fall series combines modern prose and sensibilities with the epic storylines of Tolkienesque fantasy.
The story follows Jeran, a farm boy living with his retired-military uncle, and Dahr, an escaped slave whom Jeran's family befriends and unofficially adopts. When two former warlords escape from a magical prison, Jeran and Dahr find themselves saddled with the duty of reporting the news to the king. They are aided by two Magi, who help Jeran discover his illustrious family roots and his own magical abilities.
Jeran's ambivalence regarding his magical "gift" is one of many double-edged topics in Path of Glory, and adds a degree of thought and relevance that few fantasy writers even consider. Magi are responsible for most of the civilization's greatest accomplishments, yet they are resented for their power and have been hunted nearly to extinction. The mysterious Elves, while revered as wise and nearly immortal, have both helped humanity and enslaved them at various times in their history. The king of Jeran's land must cope with bickering politicians and taxes before he can worry about the decay of a millennia-old magical Boundary. Not many fantasy novels discuss the economic disadvantages of tariffs, but Funk avoids Star Trek preachiness by introducing questions, not answers, and leaving the reader to draw his own conclusions.
In fact, just as with real bureaucracy, years pass before the various countries and races gear up for the impending war reported by Jeran and Dahr. The story rejoins the boys, now young men, as they embark on a diplomatic mission to the Elves--the first Elf-human encounter in over a hundred years. The friendship is shared by a third, the young prince Martyn, who hasn't quite figured out the balance between authority and responsibility. The journey along the title Path serves as a test of strength and loyalty, especially when Dahr is forced to choose between his sworn duty and his lifelong hatred of slavery. The book ends just as the party enters the Elves' domain, leaving the rest of the story maddeningly untold until the next installment is published.
This novel is definitely a character-centered work; events unfold in an episodic fashion, but the main storyline barely gets beyond setup in this first entry of the series. Instead, we experience the characters' everyday life. Dahr's knack with animals and Martyn's addiction to flirtation are demonstrated in numerous character-building scenes. The writing is not nearly as concise as one expects; scenes can exist simply for atmosphere and entertainment, but the witty dialogue among Jeran, Martyn, and Dahr keeps boredom from setting in. The writing style wavers somewhat between archaic formalism and modern slang, but taken as a whole it's a fast read and doesn't get bogged down in purple prose. The whole novel has a warmth to it that is atypical of story-driven fantasy and SF; characters don't just exist to fill a plot point, they have their good and bad points that grow on you over time. The strength of Funk's writing is his ability to evoke sympathy for the characters; you are drawn in to their struggles without really noticing, and putting the book down becomes more difficult each time.
However, there's more to Path of Glory than guilty pleasure. The author has obviously taken great pains to weave a history of his world, and the tales of warriors and noble sacrifices will satiate even the most hard-core fantasy reader. The descriptions of controlling and using magic are creative and evocative on their own, but the passages truly come alive in the context of Jeran's experiences. The bond between the reader and the characters heightens the drama of every situation, holding the reader's interest throughout every extraordinary revelation.
Path of Glory, published by Tyrannosaurus Press (www.tyrannosauruspress.com) makes the classic fantasy approachable for every reader, even those turned off by fantasy series in the past. I'd recommend it for anyone interested in seeing down-to-earth characters coping with larger-than-life events.