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Chasers of the Wind (The Cycle of Wind and Sparks) Hardcover – June 17, 2014
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Set in the same fictional universe as his best-selling Chronicles of Siala series (Shadow Prowler, etc.), the first book in a new trilogy from the “Russian George R. R. Martin” brings a number of fresh concepts to the high-fantasy genre. After an ancient order of necromancers joins forces with the Empire’s sworn enemies and breaches the Empire’s southern border, the epic tale follows a diverse cast of characters caught in the fray: a sharp-tongued soldier on a mission to warn his people; a highland tracker separated from his clan; a married pair of thieves on the run; and Shadow Harold, the reluctant hero of the Siala books. Though elves and reanimated corpses are to be expected in any high fantasy, Pehov’s intricate mythology introduces some frightening new creatures: morts, albino orc warriors who cut off their ears and noses; and the Je’arre, alien archers with wings. Readers who haven’t encountered the Siala trilogy may find a steep learning curve, but if you liked exploring the lands of Skyrim or Westeros, you’ll love this book. --Adam Morgan
"The first book in a new trilogy from the 'Russian George R. R. Martin' brings a number of fresh concepts to the high-fantasy genre...Readers who haven’t encountered the Siala trilogy may find a steep learning curve, but if you liked exploring the lands of Skyrim or Westeros, you’ll love this book." ―Booklist
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In this particular novel there were characters who came and went - and we don't really know what happened to them. The novel ends on a open note with no resolution to the characters' problems or the war which serves as the background of the novel. Was this intended as a first volume of a trilogy? There's no hint on the cover that there's a trilogy on the way. If this is the opening novel of a new trilogy, I will not be reading the rest of the trilogy. I wish Pehov well, but I'm giving up on him after 4 novels.
Let me get the negatives out of the way first, because I really want to focus on what was so enjoyable about the tale. I'm not sure how much of the issues are inherent to Pehov's original narrative, and how much is a result of Elinor Huntington's translation, but there were three stumbling blocks for me. First, as might be expected with a translation, there are some awkward passages (particularly early on) that feel forced, as if Huntington was really reaching for an approximate translation. Second, the narrative is interspersed with bracketed clarifying notes (some of them quite long) that might have had some value as footnotes, but which break the flow of the story. I don't know if they were part of the original text or are something added for English readers, but they could have been handled better. Lastly, and this is the most jarring of all, the story inexplicably switches from a third-person narration to first-person narration whenever Gray is the focus - a switch that sometimes happens mid-scene, leaving you scrambling to figure out whether you missed a transition somewhere,
Now, with that out of the way, let's focus on the good stuff.
What immediately struck me about the story was the use of magic and necromancy. Pehov makes it central to the tale, not just standard fantasy window dressing, and he makes it significant. His Walkers and Embers are a powerful combination (I really liked their symbiotic sort of relationship), and their magic is the kind upon which the fate of entire empires can pivot. Similarly, the enemy necromancers are awesome in the depth and range of their magic, with the monsters they create truly terrifying. Their ambush/attack on the Gates of Six Towers to open the tale was one of the best opening battle sequences I have ever read. If you can imagine how draining it must be to fight for your life against undead creatures that feel no pain, imagine having to do it all over again with the monsters who used to be your comrades.
Pehov populates his late with some great characters as well, particularly the soldiering team of Luk and Ga-Nor. Although the two have an awkward sort of camaraderie that lends the tale much of its humor, they're also solid, admirable heroes in their own right. I was actually quite surprised at how often Luk managed to not only hold his ground, but actually distinguish himself against the far more experienced warrior. Similarly, the team of Gray and Layen is a welcome sort of pairing for an epic fantasy, being a happily married husband and wife, one of whom happens to have access to Walker magic, and the other of which is an expert assassin. Their relationship isn't key to the story, and Pehov doesn't milk it for dramatic effect, it's just a part of who they are.
Having brought up Gary, I must say a few words about the assassins of Chasers of the Wind. This is another element, like that of the necromancers, where Pehov really manages to do something fresh and original with the genre. His assassins are an interesting society, with assassins who range from surgical sort of precision strikes to overwhelming brutality. The flashback scene in which we learn why Gray and Layen are on the run, and see how Gray's biggest job was accomplished, is exceptionally well done.
Plot-wise, this is very clearly the opening stanza in a much longer tale, so there's not a lot of story arc or complex resolution here. Much of the story consists of battles, chases, rescues, and confrontations. It's a very fast-moving tale, with the exception of a lull in the middle, that absolutely races to a conclusion. It's big, it's epic, and it's honestly awe-inspiring in places. If you find the opening narration at all awkward, like I did, stick with it and trust that the story and the characters will carry you through . . . because they absolutely do.
I’ve thought about it. I mean, the book was popular enough in its native language to get translated into English and re-published, so that speaks highly for it, right? Yeah, definitely . . .
Language is a complex and beautiful thing, and this isn’t a real life interaction where only the gist of the information needs to be understood. This is LITERATURE, and there is not one thing that anyone can say to convince me that Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening doesn’t lose some essential spark when it’s adapted into something not-English. The words are like a dance, expertly choreographed, and that cannot be translated.
So that’s why I’ve kind of avoided this kind of book in the past. And you know what?
I was right.
Chasers of the Wind by Alexey Pehov was a surprisingly good read. It took awhile, but the characters grew on me. This is straight-up fantasy, so there are multiple POVs, but not too many, and the shifting perspectives are mostly focused on pairs.
My favorite pair is Ness and Layen/Gray and Weasel, an assassin husband and wife team (Gray and Weasel are their “working” names). Gray is an expert shot with almost any kind of bow, and Weasel has the Gift (MAGIC), but as far as we know, is completely unaffiliated with the magical hierarchy, the strangeness of this circumstance being communicated in various, but thankfully not obvious, ways.
Second favorite pair is Luk and Ga-Nor. Luk is a rascal and a solider who is overfond of dice, and Ga-Nor is a Northern tracker, and viewed by the majority of society as a savage. Ga-Nor keeps Luk out of trouble, Luk lightens things up for taciturn Ga-Nor, and they just work well together. I like them.
NOT my favorite is Pork, the village idiot, and Tia, or Typhoid, the Overlord, or Damned, depending on who you ask. Pork is the Noah Percy in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village variety of village idiot—NOT the good kind, the creepy and sinister kind. And Tia is a spoiled brat who has probably been a spoiled brat for the entirety of her existence (over 500 years).
So the characters were pretty well-developed and mostly likable, unless the point was not to like them, then you didn’t.
The world-building was . . . interesting. The book begins with the fall of the impregnable fortress. The early and very thorough takeover of the impregnable fortress doesn’t happen until you’ve been told SIX times in four pages how awesomely awesome this fortress is, and how it will never, EVER fall.
And that magical hierarchy I spoke of earlier? They’re most often referred to as Walkers and Embers. Embers are kind of obvious. Walkers, not so much, but we didn’t find out until 77% into the book what they actually were.
Then there’s Luk’s overuse of his favorite curse, “screw a toad.” 33 times. 33 times, he swears, “screw a toad.”
And that’s a good intro to the language crossover issues.
Using nature inspired names is a fairly common practice. Especially in fantasy where you often find numerous magical and diverse peoples. Elves, Fae, earth magic users, etc. will have names like Rowan Whitethorn of House Somekindoftree. This happens in contemporary novels too. One of my favorite non-magical characters is named Blue Echohawk.
But what about House Strawberry?
Or House Butterfly?
*frowns and squints*
Okay, maybe, if we’re talking about cute, little Tinkerbell fairies. Maybe. But take a gander at that book cover. Does that look like the cover of a book with cute, little Tinkerbell fairies?
Houses Strawberry and Butterfly are two of the seven Highborn (Elf) houses, and though we don’t actually meet any of them (well, there is one, but he doesn’t count), we are lead to believe that they are a rather fierce and warmongering people.
And they’d have to be. Otherwise no one would take them seriously.
So there are the bizarre name issues. And then there are the bizarre dialogue and description issues.
The dialogue issue is most obvious in a conversation between two of the Overlords, Tia and Rovan (<——the Highborn who doesn’t count). Rovan is acting completely out of character, and Tia, rather than saying something like, “Who are you, and what have you done with Rovan?” which would make sense to a native English speaker, says, “I don’t recognize you.”
*frowns and squints AGAIN*
And I’m familiar enough with the Rascal Soldier character to assume that he is more than a joker and a gambler. But that belief was a deliberate decision, b/c there wasn’t any evidence to support that claim. At least not until more than halfway through the book when Ness comments that, “Luk, despite his frivolity, is not a man to mess with,” and the lack of evidence had been such that that one statement filled me with a sense of vindication.
Overall, Chasers of the Wind by Alexey Pehov was an entertaining enough read that the obvious translation misfires were merely nuisances that I flicked away like a gnat. The alternately interesting and monstrous creatures, as well as the complexities of the magical races drew me in completely. While I’d not yet classify Chasers of the Wind as dark fantasy, there are definitely hints of darker things to come. Necromancers, overtly feared Overlords known to the masses as Leprosy and Consumption who wield great and terrible power, and wizards whose primary function is controlling demons we’ve yet to encounter, all promise more exciting chapters from this world. I’ll definitely read the next book, and I’d recommend this to readers who like a bit of nefarious in their fantasy.