After some recent deviations from my favorite genre, I was looking forward to finally reading another great and original epic fantasy. Col Buchanan’s debut Farlander, first in his Heart of the World series, was my novel of choice.
A familiar story…
This is a story of a famous and legendary veteran assassin who picks up an unlikely apprentice, a young boy from the streets of a huge city under siege by an even bigger empire. Sound familiar? If you haven’t read The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks, you should probably read that first. Farlander’s apprentice is called Nico, and the legendary assassin is called Ash. The character of Ash is much the same as that of Durzo—the legendary assassin in Brent Weeks’s trilogy—though he’s not just a rogue assassin, but also part of a monastery of assassins called the Roshun. The Roshun offer vengeance through the means of a medallion that indicates when the wearer dies. If a client is killed, the Roshun know who did it and hunt the killer.
…and an even more familiar world
The stage for this uninspired tale is an even less inspired world lying around an ocean with the creative name Mideres Sea. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, one look at the map in this book will: it’s like looking at an alternate-universe version of the Mediterranean Sea. This world comes with a Mannian Empire, though Buchanan could just as well have called it the Roman Empire. The Mannians even hold gladiator battles in a filled arena, which leads to a situation where one of our protagonists battles a couple of wolves (okay, wolves are an awesome touch, I give you that) and wins the favor of the crowd. More bells ringing, right?
Vivid and vibrant
If you manage to look beyond the unoriginality, the book isn’t all bad. The world is, in fact, brilliantly spawned, with a very vivid and vibrant atmosphere and the sense that this is truly a world of great scope. Though in that, too, I encountered flaws: Buchanan’s writing suggests that the Empire and the Order of Roshun are hundreds, if not thousands of years old, but he then explains how the Order was founded thirty years ago, and the Empire fifty.
Another of these flaws rises to the surface when two scenes of war councils, set in two opposing cultures, are so similar that I wonder if this world even has cultural differences. While that may be the very point of Farlander—that humans are all the same, driven by greed and blood lust—the overwhelming similarities among the different cultures felt blatantly unrealistic. The philosophical conversations about cultures, religion, and racism are engaging, however, leading the reader to think about these issues as well.
Picking up the pace
Though the story struggles to find its pace in the first half, the second half really picks up and contains kick-ass fight scenes and some great suspense. The characters, being well-fleshed out, also grasped my attention—the amount of background provided for each character was a true high point in this novel.
From the unoriginal start, via the training grounds of the Roshun Order, the story moves to the streets of the Imperial capital, where it reaches beyond being a mere copy of Weeks’s Night Angel Trilogy and spins its own unique and intriguing tale. For me, Buchanan has definitely redeemed himself with a brilliant second half of the book and a daring ending to blow your mind away and leave you eager to read the second installment. That sequel, titled Stands a Shadow, will be released this summer and would greatly benefit from a little more world building.
Ridiculous (but lovable) tech
The most entertaining thing to me, though, was the addition of some steampunk-esque elements to the epic scenery of Farlander. Scenes like the battle of airships, coupled with Buchanan’s gripping writing style, spur the reader to continue reading, despite annoyance at some inconsistencies.
I found some flaws with the steampunk-esque elements. It isn’t full-blown steampunk. The airships, for example, seem to be wind-powered instead of steam-powered, without ever explaining how that technically works. Another one of these elements is the use of gunpowder. Not normal gunpowder, but very special powder that ignites when soaked in water. Reading this actually made me laugh out loud, especially during a gunfight in a pretty thick fog, where no one is blown to bits due to wet guns. And that sums up the problem I have with Buchanan’s world building: it is as if he thought “Oh, that’s cool, let’s write that into the story,” without ever thinking about the consequences, and though entertaining, more detail-orientated readers may find it bothersome.
Why should you read this novel?
Farlander is a decent debut novel, but set in an underdeveloped and unoriginal world. Despite this, the way Buchanan’s writing improves as the story progresses promises great things for future installments of The Heart of the World. You might find this book entertaining. In fact, if you enjoy a blood-soaked story of pseudo-Romans, assassins, and gladiators, you will love it. If you’re looking for something deeper, however, this might not be the book for you.