Friday, December 02, 2011

Scriber (Ben S Dobson)

Despite being firmly of the medieval European vein, Scriber is an epic fantasy that manages to deliver freshness, deftness, and a fair dose of gender sensitivity to the genre's tropes. It moves from mystery/scavenger hunt to epic battle to morality tale but does it in an effective and seamless way. In this book, the Kingsland is being threatened by a group of rebels who seem determined to burn the kingdom down. Thrust into the middle of the action is Dennon Lark, a Scriber who is hiding away in the small village of Waymark but now the unfortunate target of the mysterious Burners. Lucky for the villagers, Bryndine Errynson and her company of female soldiers ride in to save most of them, but what Dennon and Bryndine don't know is that this is only the beginning of a quest that forces them together to save the Kingsland from a threat that none of them had imagined.

What first drew me to it was the choice of Dennon Lark, a historian, as the narrator. A fitting choice given his profession, though he is far from the kind of protagonist that most epic fantasies require. Dennon spends far too much time being afraid of his own shadow. His cowardice is often mentioned in the book -– from his desire to hide from the world after a personal endeavor turns tragic to his fear of Sylla, the self-appointed bodyguard of Bryndine Errynson.

A counterpoint to him is Bryndine, niece to the King and generally shunned to Hester Prynne-like proportions as a blasphemer for taking up arms and leading a company of female soldiers. She is the story's heroic trope, given bulk and battle ferocity to make her appear physically unattractive, but with a steadiness of character and purpose that made me cheer for her at every turn. Her actions are tolerated only because she is of noble blood and even among people she saves, she is neither admired nor thanked. Turn Bryndine male and the character loses much of its vulnerability and pathos.

I like how Mr Dobson gives us protagonists we can get behind and uses both Dennon and Bryndine to show different kinds of bravery, different kinds of battles, different kinds of heroes.

Even the warrior women are given nuanced roles. There are about twenty of them but the author knew how to write for them, how to introduce them to the reader so that you are never overwhelmed. Mr Dobson made sure that you paid attention to the right ones at the right times. One that particularly stood out was Wynne, with her hopefulness and desire for learning, and at the end of the book I really did feel as if I were part of this company.

I felt completely immersed in this world. Here, scribers like Dennon are tasked with recovering the kingdom's forgotten history, lost during a Forgetting instigated by a King who had razed all books and knowledge to the ground. It's a monumental task but one that Dennon approaches with passion and devotion, and snippets of all that he has discovered, as we ll as his thoughts, are revealed in brief passages before each chapter. But in spite of this, the world-building in Scriber is never unwieldy. In fact, I would go out on a limb and say that every detail mentioned had something to contribute to the plot and wasn't just included for flavor or scene-setting. (Let me know if I'm wrong.) Every little thing seemed to matter; nothing felt wasted.

I'm always up for a good series, but I'm a reader who is more impressed when a story wraps itself up satisfyingly in just one take. My only real concern with Scriber was how quickly the characters seemed to jump to conclusions while putting clues together. But that is little compared to how the story works itself to a glorious and emotionally-charged climax. Scriber ticks all the right boxes and reminds me that with indie releases like this, epic fantasy refuses to be just another tired and battle-worn genre.

This review is cross-posted to Adarna SF. The author provided a free copy for this review but damn, I have resolved to buy copies for Christmas presents.


Frida Fantastic said...

Ha! Are you gifting it in paperback form, I assume?

dementedchris said...

Haha! I was thinking more of the inelegant way of making them buy their own copies and then paying them in person haha. I have a friend who loved Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind and I think she'll enjoy this one.

Tin said...

A couple of days ago, I though about how most (or maybe even all) of the books I read have brave, headstrong, kick-ass protagonists. Could there be a coward hero/heroine? I dismissed the thought because it seems like a contradiction in terms. So I was surprised when you mentioned about Dennon Lark and this book. Although I guess you really have to include a strong character in the book like Bryndine. Anyway, this looks like a great and unique fantasy read. :)

dementedchris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dementedchris said...

One thing that excites me about having a coward for a protagonist is that I think the story can go anywhere! I admit that I like flawed characters better because the story has the potential to become just as much about the character as it is about the plot. :)