|Submitted by Dan Bieger |
(Sep 29, 2005)
The Road to Kotaishi, Kevin Radthorne, Windstorm Creative, 2002
Very soon after you begin this tale, you realize you are in the hands of a story teller, a writer who draws you in and pulls you along not with flamboyant prose nor with pyrotechnic action but with characters you can identify with, problems that you understand, and enough twists and turns to unsettle your complacency along the way. In fantasy, there are writers who do not win the prizes but deliver stories that you want to finish, that make you want to see what happens next, that guarantee their name on a book will cause you to pick it up to examine the contents. They build your trust. With your trust comes your loyalty. With this first novel, Kevin Radthorne makes that happen.
The story unfolds against an Asian backdrop, the language suggesting Japan but the society not resembling anything we are used to seeing as Japanese. You will find no Shogun nor any Samurai running loose, no ninjas plotting subversion, no Geishas tempting the hero. What you will find in addition to the language is a religious order that values knowledge and understanding, trains its acolytes to participate in the world in all its facets, and provides three of the central characters in the story. The order reminds me of the Shao Lin of “Kung Fu” fame with David Carradine playing the monk. But the resemblance between those Shao Lin and Radthorne’s Deshi is in mood and not substance, in reverence and spirituality but not life style. The Deshi wish to instruct the world, to share their knowledge where Carradine’s Shao Lin wished to retreat from it.
Another Asian flavor is drawn from the map provided in the frontispiece depicting the land, Tonogato, with four of its major cities highlighted and a fifth less so. From right to left are Hajimeshi, Yutakashi, Shukyoshi, and Tejinashi, four cities totally different in architecture, philosophy, and government. The story begins in Hajimeshi and moves right to left across the map to reach its climax in and around Tejinashi. At climax, there is a pointer to the fifth city, Sabakushi, but that is another story altogether. Reading the tale from right to left is a clever Japanese-derived addition to the Asian feel of the story.
Each of the four cities contributes to the plot on at least two levels. Radthorne presents the information both clearly and obscurely never hiding what he is up to but always viewing it through a sheer curtain that deflects the reader’s attention.
Nominally, the tale concerns a quest to find the hero necessary to save Togonato from an impending peril. In a satisfying manner, the quest succeeds but that is not the real story. This a coming-of-age story. The male and female leads are both young and both travel across Togonato on journeys of self-discovery. Both characters mature in logical ways, achieving understanding and acceptance of themselves through hardship and adventure, with and without the assistance of friends. How they come to be who they come to be is the heart of the story.
The villain of the piece, well drawn and well manipulated by outside forces, seems never to learn as his antagonists do and that is a slight drawback in the story. The villain is clever, cruel, and intelligent but not enough so as to learn from his mistakes. I think Kevin would assert the outside forces prevented his awareness of the reason for his errors but I think the guy was intelligent enough to at least wonder why his best laid plans backfired. After awhile, he has to begin to suspect that even Murphy hates him.
What I enjoyed most in the story was the feeling that whenever I knew what was happening, where the story was going, what the pivotal characters must do next, Radthorne always presented a twist, a motive I had not suspected, a lesson I should have picked up on but missed. For me, that is the essence of story telling. Add to that the tantalizing glimpses of magic provided that could just as easily be explained by technology and the layers Radthorne provides are enormous fun to penetrate. For example, picture the world of the Myst game and all its clues to what your next action should be. When you arrive at Tejinashi, standing at moat’s edge, wondering how to cross, it will be like finding yourself standing in Myst, knowing the answer is about somewhere, but initially clueless as to where to look for it. When the answer becomes clear, the means will feel precisely as when you discovered the ship could rise in the water in Myst.
I was not satisfied with two aspects of the story, one technical and one cinematic. Technically, I would wish that Kevin find a publisher capable of producing the tale in one volume. Requiring two volumes to print the book, I can understand as a limitation of the machinery available to Windstorm Creative but, in the end, I come away feeling that the mechanism builds an unfair and unmet expectation for Part I and ends up seeming to be a profit-making ploy by the publisher.
Cinematically, what the protagonists are doing, searching for the predicted savior of their world, leads to a climax that introduces a new-but-not-new character. The climax seems to say that this introduction was the true intent of the quest all along and yet that does not satisfy. It dismisses the male and female realization of who they are to take the story in an almost totally different direction. Yes, it certainly sets up the next story, but having this introduction the one truly pyrotechnic event in the story didn’t feel right. Perhaps this niggle will dissipate in the progress of the next story.
Despite my niggles, read this story. Be prepared to be engrossed, to be puzzled at turns and delighted at others. Be prepared to submit yourself into the hands of a story teller and know that you are going to lose hours and hours basking in his magic.