Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Land of Bad Elves: a review of M.B. Mooney's The Living Stone

Unlike Middle Earth, the elves are the evil empire. The human lands of Erelon have been ruled for many years now by the elves of Kyrus. They've tried to wipe out traditional monotheism, and have imposed their own ways on human society. However, there are pockets of those who have held on to their belief in El. Among them are those led by one known as the Prophet.

Caleb De'Ador had been missing since he was 15, captured by the elf authorities and taken to Kryus, the centre of the elven empire. The high ranking elf that was in charge of him happened to be sympathetic towards the human nation, realising the injustice of his own kind. He had Caleb trained as a Bladeguard, something like a Samurai. Caleb returns to Erelon, intending to seek the Living Stone, which would confirm him into the ancient order of the Sohan-el. They are the true Samurai-like defenders of the faith that are now only a legend, and of which the order of the Bladeguard are a copy. To become a Sohan-el, a trained swordsman who has taken the oath must seek the living stone, an iron rock with a tree growing out of it, and lay his hand on it. If he is found worthy, the rock will released an unforged sword, the symbol of his office. The Sohan-el haven't been around for hundreds of years. As a Sohan-el, he can begin to lead humanity to stand up and fight for their freedom, and restore their glory as nations under El.

On his return to Erelon, Caleb finds that the Prophet, his uncle, has been imprisoned by the elves in a strong fortress-like prison. A local gangster introduces him to Aden, a child of the streets, who is the only one known to have escaped this prison. He offers to help under one condition, that he be allowed to accompany Caleb and the Prophet on their journeys. Caleb reluctantly agrees, and they bust the Prophet out.

Meanwhile, in the mountains to the West, a door to the underworld has opened, which happens once in 527 years. A legion of demics (a sort of small orc or troll) pour forth, led by a giant horned Demilord named Thoros. They once roamed freely on the face of the earth until they were imprisoned in the underworld by the Sohan-el. Every 527 years, when the door opens, a limited number of them escape with the goal of finding the key to the underworld, so that they can reopen the door and let the rest of them out. They begin their journey to the northern city of Ketan, devouring every living thing in their path. The demics eat human flesh, but the demilord eats their souls -- reminiscent of William Hodgeson's The Night Lands. From the first town, only Eshlyn and her infant son survive. She must make it to the walled city of Ketan, warning everyone she meets on the way, urging them to join her. The infant is a descendant of the ancient human dynasty that once ruled in Ketan. Now, Ketan is a backwater, ruled by a corrupt high elf who was sent there as punishment.

Ketan is also the destination of Caleb, Aden and the Prophet, along with a growing group of companions. The Living Stone is somewhere in the mountains just beyond.

Mooney keeps the action going from both sides, Eshlyn's struggle to persuade townsfolk of the dangers only a day or so behind her; Caleb and company's journeys, barely a step ahead of elven authorities. The characterisation is good. Caleb is impulsive and sometimes insists on performing heroic acts even when they could endanger their mission. The Prophet isn't a Gandalf nor a Professor Dumbledore. While he knows how to hear the voice of El, he hasn't been a good father figure, and he regrets that. There are also good elves, such as Caleb's mentor in Kyrus, and the First General of Ketan, who must work around elven corruption. There are also good humans, as well as those who probably deserved to be eaten by the demics. Of course, there's a lot of samurai style action and swordplay, as well as good strategy. Mooney has invented his own profanity, words like “crit” and “break”, for which I'm sure, if we lived in Erelon, our mothers would wash our mouths out with soap.

It's a good read, and Mooney sets us up for the sequel.

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