Friday, March 02, 2012

Review: "Farlander" by Col Buchanan

I initially picked up Col Buchanan’s debut “Farlander” ($24.99, Tor) for a couple of reasons. One, I’m a sucker for assassin’s apprentice stories and was hoping for something along the lines of Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy or Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Series. Second, the cover intrigued me with the flying machine in the background and the hint that Buchanan’s world could be a little different from what I’m used to.

The book follows the story of a boy named Nico, who has run away from home and is living as best he can on the streets of a city under siege. On his first attempt at stealing to support himself and a friend, Nico is caught. As it turns out, the man he was stealing from is a farlander named Ash, who is part of a guild of assassins known as the Roshun. Ash is aging and his health is fading. He needs to take on an apprentice, so Nico is offered the option of a harsh and public punishment or going with the farlander for training.

The Roshun, however, are not traditional assassins who kill for a price. The group offers protection for those who can afford it via a magical seal which will let the Roshun know if the person has been killed. If the protected person is murdered, the warriors will declare a vendetta on the killer and seek vengeance – be the killer king or commoner. As Nico’s training is just beginning, a near-impossible contract comes due that will send the boy and his master into the heart of the Empire of Mann – a one-time cult grown into a world power bent on dominating everyone and everything.

I finished “Farlander” with very mixed feelings on the book. While there are some masterful moments from Buchanan throughout the course of the story, the novel as a whole is very uneven. We’re given an intriguing opening in which we meet Ash, overcoming great obstacles, to fulfill a vendetta against a barbarian king. Immediately following that scene, we’re subjected to chapter after chapter of setup, back story and exposition that makes the book drag for a good long while. More than once, I considered giving up on it.

In the end, I was glad that I didn’t. As the action begins to pick up in the latter part of the book, things get back on track. An assassination attempt toward the end leads to an amazing sequence that’s compelling and breathtaking. Those scenes alone were almost worth the 400-page investment of time. But even at that point, the book still has problems with pacing, as we’re thrown back into a more mundane storyline with some events that leave you wondering why they were necessary.

Buchanan’s world is interesting, though not as interesting as the cover implied to me. It’s a typical fantasy setting where most battles are decided by blades, but there are a few rare firearms and the cannons that the Mannians pound the walls of Nico’s home with. There are also the airships, which are interesting, but a bit underused in “Farlander.”

There was enough promise in this book that I will likely continue with the second in the series, “Stands a Shadow,” which sits on my to-read stack right now. With much of the back story out of the way, I’m hopeful that Buchanan can focus his talents and live up to the potential that we see a bit of in “Farlander.”

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