Looking back at what I read over the past few years I’ve come to the conclusion that my favorite novels qualify as historical fiction and adjacent genres. Shogun, Tai-Pan, Scaramouche, Captain Alatriste, and Master & Commander are the novels I gravitate towards.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of doing some camping with Uncle Sam’s Gun Club. It consisted of several weeks of being out in the middle of nowhere, sleeping out in the cold, eating MRE’s, and running endless Mass Casualty drills. The sort of stuff I live for. Of course I took my Kindle with me and managed to read between CBR drills.
The book that kept my attention in the midst of all the excitement was Alexander Hellene’s latest, The Last Ancestor: The Swordbringer Book 1. A fantastic piece of science fiction adventure that reads like a throwback to a better time, a time where novels were action packed, heroic, and fun, instead of ironic and nihilistic.
The Last Ancestor is a coming of age adventure novel that follows Garrett Nestor, a human teen born and raised on the planet Yxakh. Garrett is part of the New Canaan settlement made up of Christian refugees who escaped war and persecution on earth only to crash-land on a planet populated by a warlike race of canine-like aliens nicknamed Growlers who are hostile to humanity and their beliefs. The fledgling human colony lives at the mercy of the Growlers Supreme Leader who despises their religion but covets the firearms and technology they posses. In the midst of this interesting setup our young protagonist befriends a curious Growler and ends up in the middle of a life or death plot that forever changes the future of everyone, Human and Growler.
At face value The Last Ancestor is an action packed boy’s adventure novel that reminds me of some of the Jules Verne books I read growing up. Fun, action packed, filled with hideous aliens, honorable friends, crashed space ships, hidden mysteries, and colorful characters. But, beneath the pulpy trappings Alexander Hellene gives us a wholesome coming of age tale about faith in ones people, religion, and friendship. Elements that are often missing from almost all of today’s entertainment.
The Last Ancestors strength, and also it’s weakness, but I’ll get to that later, lies in its pure earnestness. Hellene wore a novel that reads like the continuation of some of my favorite childhood action cartoons. When reading I pictured all of the characters animated in that awesome Hanna-Barbara Thundercats style that was so awesome back in the day. The Last Ancestor is a tale that is rooted in a moral and heroic landscape that was part of our childhood, Hellene is about my age. A landscape that was filled with heroic characters instead of the ironic and nihilistic fare that passes for boy’s entertainment nowadays. It’s a tale that belongs on the shelf next to He-Man, Thundercats, and Johnny Quest and fans of fun and adventurous will love this book.
But, like I said above, it’s earnestness also holds it back. The portrayal of Christians and their religion is refreshing. It’s wonderful to read a novel where Christians or the Christian analogue isn’t some evil hypocrite or backwards puritan. Yet, The Last Ancestor is ultimately a PG-13 adventure novel and I was left yearning for more depth. I wanted less action and more theology, more cultural comparison, more discussion of faith. Ultimately, that’s my issue because I tend to prefer slower more cerebral fiction, but from what I’ve read here it’s clear that Hellene has the literary chops to up the game in the future.
In the end The Last Ancestor is a fantastic independent novel that kept me reading. The quality of the prose, the world-building, character development, and plot are all top notch and I’m proud to award it the first ever BarbarianBookClub Honorable Pig Award. Alexander Hellene crafted a wonderful novel and his dedication and love for the material comes through on every page. This guy is a professional and I look forward to reading more of his work.
If you support independent fiction that turns it’s back on the nihilistic degeneracy pick this up. If you want a fun adventure on a well written alien world, pick this one up.
It’s two in the afternoon on Columbus day. My wife is napping with the kid and I’ve grown bored of trolling all the typical Columbus Day lib-posts, and Morrissey keeps popping up on my Spotifiy mix. In a few hours when everyone wakes up we will head out to our friends for dinner. Life is good.
Life has been busy. Between my life draining job and my responsibilities to my wife and kid I have very little time to myself. That small window of time is mostly taken by reading, writing fiction, and spending time with my wife watching movies or just hanging out. This place has been suffering. Mostly because it was always intended as a author site but right now I don’t really have a lot to put out.
I’ve written some short stories and have some more in the process but none of them really match the indy market. I don’t know where to submit them. I’m coming to the realization that my work doesn’t really jive with what editors like. Especially because I’m using the short story format to experiment with voice and style. I expect that in the future I will put out a collection of stories. I’m just not sure that they make a coherent product at this point.
More importantly I’ve started the groundwork on a novel. The last few months have been dedicated to research. I’m currently in the outline phase and plan on starting the first draft around the Thanksgiving holiday. The goal is to finish and publish before I head out on another South Pacific adventure next spring.
But, I digress. The point of this post was to discuss my plan for this blog. I’ve feel that a lot of fantasy review blogs suck. I can’t stand reading most of them. So instead of whining I’m going to start writing more in-depth reviews of books I think need general attention. I’m going to focus on indy books, specifically in the pulp-rev adjacent scene.
The reviews I plan on writing will be comprehensive. I’ll take recommendations but I’m rather picky when it comes to what I want to read so I might never get around to doing one on a book you wrote or would like reviewed.
I created a badge system. My reviews will only have three ratings. Blank, Honorable, and Golden. I will go in depth about what each entails but expect the majority of books to get blanks.
One of the often repeated refrains from the vile Cult of Resentment is that so much Fantasy is just rehashed, Tolkien fanfiction. Unfortunately, there is some truth in this, a lot of modern multi-volume fantasy is quite derivative of Middle Earth. Pale imitators lacking the poetic and moral compass of JRRT. Due to the popularity of the imitators, and the almost systematic erasure of most pre-Tolkien fantasy from the public sphere, a new reader often thinks of Middle Earth as ground zero for fantasy, myself included.
But that is starting to change, big thanks to Jeffro’s Appendix N for one, and also a revival of the pulp aesthetic by indie magazines like Cirsova and Storyhack and the many new writers affiliated with the PulpRev movement.
In order to educate, and also hopefully find some great reading material for myself, I propose a challenge to all my blogger friends.
Pre-Tolkien Short Story Challenge
Identify 3 Fantasy stories written before Lord of the Rings was published. 3 stories written before 1954.
Review all three on your blog, focusing on pre-Tolkien differences of similarities, and making sure you let us know where we can find them for ourselves.
Share the challenge.
I think this will be an interesting exercise. I hope a lot of people join me so I can compile a great collection of reviews that hopefully will inspire others to read older Fantasy.
I don’t write a lot of full-length book reviews. I prefer quick updates on what I’ve read recently, short and to the point, enough to recommend and maybe spur some discussion, but not concise reviews. The only time I write longer pieces is when I come across a book that really captures my imagination, for example, last months The River of Doubt Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard, a fantastic read filled with danger and adventure rivaling any fictional account. Robin Hobb’s The Liveship Traders is a masterpiece of fantasy writing and I feel compelled to recommend it to all my friends who enjoy intelligent character driven fantasy literature.
If you know me and follow me on here you know that I believe Robin Hobb is the best Fantasy writer out there. I loved the first Farseer Trilogy, so much so that I’m listening to the audiobook version on audible with my wife. We are currently on the second book, and I’m enjoying the series in this format. But, when I finished the initial Fitz series I was a bit hesitant to go on with the Liveship Traders. It focuses on a different set of characters and unlike the Farseer books it’s written in third person with multiple point of views. I put off reading it for about two years, but when I finally started it last month I couldn’t stop. Fitz and the Farseers are fantastic, but The Liveship trilogy is the best fantasy trilogy I’ve ever read.
The massive trilogy is made up of Ship of Magic, Mad Ship, and Ship of Destiny, each hefty fantasy tomes. The Liveship Traders is the saga of the Vestrits, an old Trader family from the exotic port colony of Bingtown. Bingtown Traders are the old money elite, descendants of the original founders of the city, and unique for owning mysterious living ships made out of wizardwood. Ships that are quickened by the death of three generations of family, becoming living beings that have the memories and personalities of their past captains.
The trilogy follows the Vestrits, as their family Liveship, the Vivacia becomes aware after the death of the family patriarch. His beloved daughter Althea, who grew up sailing with her father expects to inherit Vivacia but her mother and older sister instead grant Captainship to her brother-in-law Kyle, a hard man who decides to take his meek son Wintrow onboard and lead the financially burdened family into the new burgeoning slave trade. The events and decisions set off a chain of events that have massive consequence not only for the Vestrits but for Bingtown and the whole world.
Slave traders, sea serpents, pirate captains, pirate kingdoms, jungles, ancient cities, violence, and high seas adventure. This trilogy has it all and the best portrayal of dragons as ancient hyper-intelligent alien creatures I’ve ever read in fantasy. But for all the excitement Robin Hobb’s ultimate strength and what elevates her writing above other fantasy lies in her characters. The depth of characterization and growth is unmatched in fantasy. Her characters are living, breathing, beings that are often deeply flawed yet grow and learn as the narrative advances and they fight to survive through the difficult trials of Hobb’s world.
Hobb’s characterization is often so complex that characters you love at first go on to fail and disappoint while characters that begin as despicable and nasty become heroic and intriguing. The greatest example of complex characterization lies in the trilogy’s primary villain, the pirate Capitan Kennit. Hobb’s writing is so outstanding that all Kennit’s despicable behavior is plainly laid out, his vile thoughts are revealed to the reader, yet somehow you fall for his gaslighting and begin rooting for him just like the characters in the book. Kennit is one of the most complex and intriguing villains I’ve ever read and an outstanding achievement.
The Liveship Traders Trilogy is outstanding, complex, fantasy, that left me wanting more. The depth of characterization is the best I’ve read in any modern fantasy novel and while I have ten more Robin Hobb novels to read in her Realm of the Elderlings setting I’m going to predict that this trilogy will reign at the top of my list of favorites for many years to come.