by Tim Lebbon
Published by Allison and Busby, 2008.
In the unexplored regions of Noreela there are rumours of the Great Divide, a massive cliff which demarcates the end of the known world and something else, something unknown. Ramus and Nomi obtain a parchment from a voyager who claims to have visited the region and it indicates that there are other, even greater, mysteries to be explored. Faced with the dangers of the unknown but also potential fame and fortune they set off on the ultimate challenge and potentially lethal expedition.
Tim Lebbon has created a fantastic adventure novel reminiscent of the classics, think “Journey To The Centre Of The Earth” or “The Lost World” but in a unique and imaginative fantasy setting. The main characters are rich and detailed but many retain an aura of mystery which is never fully explained allowing for interesting tension points to develop. They are motivated by that inexplicable need to explore, at any cost.
The true star of the show in Noreela itself. Tim Lebbon avoids most of the fantasy cliches in his writing (the book doesn’t even have a map) but instead creates a land populated with mysterious beings, creatures and landscapes. Cleverly avoiding exposition the author allows the descriptions of the places and sites to tell their own stories, its a great skill to be able to invoke the feel of a place with a few choice adjectives but it’s a skill that Tim Lebbon shows frequently. This allows the narrative to roll along without the pauses and long winded explanations normally required to fill in the backstory, it also retains mystery and intrigue right to the end.
The plot itself is fairly simplistic but add in the characters and mysteries found along the journey and it evolves into something much greater than the sum of it’s parts. Tim Lebbon has created more mystery, intrigue and downright thrills than most fantasy writers achieve in an entire trilogy but more importantly he creates an emotional attachment to the main characters that many lesser writers never achieve.
Reading fantasy can be something of a guilty pleasure, tortuous world building, generic, bland characters and creatures and frankly, childish plots abound. Of course writers like Joe Abercrombie have shaken the genre up with their adult themes giving it a much needed maturity boost but there has also been a tendency to shock just for the hell of it (not from Joe Abercrombie I hasten to add). This book, I think, achieves the perfect balance, mature in tone (sex, violence and swearing are all present but never gratuitous) but still with that element of escapism which is, after all, why we read and enjoy fantasy in the first place. Above all, however it’s a bloody good read, a fast paced, emotionally charged and skillful masterclass in fantasy writing. It might not go down well with the purists who may miss the dwarves, goblins and Thrustbladder Axecrumpler type characters but for readers who want something different, and are prepared to explore a little, its highly recommended.
Rating 4 out of 5