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Off the Shelves: ‘Exiled Heir’ puts new ‘skin,’ spin on familiar fantasy

POSTED: March 10, 2013 7:00 a.m.

Atlanta author Jonathan French says “Books are akin to blades. They take a great deal of heat, pressure and time to produce.”

It is clear he poured a good deal of devotion into his novel, “The Exiled Heir: Autumn’s Fall Saga, Book One,” the first in the series of which the second book will be released later this year.

“The Exiled Heir” opens on the isle of Airlann, a place where both humankind and Fae-kind dwell. Although it has been centuries since the war against the tyrannical Goblin Kings, sorcerers who commanded the malicious goblins to ravage the land, the world is still locked in a time of desolation, the age of “Autumn.”

Poverty-stricken humans struggle to survive in secluded towns, and the remaining magical folk are scattered, distrustful of the humans with whom they were once allied. As evil forces begin to resurface in Airlann, the paths of several outcasts start to intersect. Padric, a young man whose dark features mark him as bad luck, sets out into the world to leave behind his hometown and the townsfolk who scorn him. Accompanying him is Rosheen, a mischievous but loyal piskie (not to be confused with pixie) who has been Padric’s lifelong friend.

On their journey they are reunited with Padric’s old mentor, Fafnir the dwarf, as well as joined by a stalwart fomori (a ram-horned guardian), a curmudgeonly gnome herbalist and a tenderhearted changling who is under the protection of the Knights of the Valiant Spur, an order of honorable bird-men.

With the threat of the resurrected Forge Born, destructive sentinels of living metal, as well as the legacy of the deceased Goblin King Jerrod possibly being discovered by the enemy, our band of heroes must find a way to save Airlann from the evils creeping back in from the shadows to destroy all that is good.

Fantasy needs to find that perfect balance between the limitless magical possibilities that the imagination can conjure up, and the realistic grounding that allows the reader to still connect and identify with the characters and the world of the story. French does a nice job creating characters who are both original while also possessing the qualities we like about fantasy heroes.

He also presents a mythical world that offers familiar concepts in new “skins,” the magical creatures are reminiscent of fantasy types we’ve seen before but have distinctive modifications to make them unique. While there are still dwarves, goblins and gnomes, there are piskies (more tribal versions of fairies), gruagach (witch-demons) and fomori (beastmen).

The Exiled Heir pays homage to other fantasy novels and movies, and it is amusing to recognize them (if they actually were intentional). The Goblin King Jerrod, who according to history was defeated by a young girl, reminded me of my childhood favorite film “Labyrinth” (in which the Goblin King Jared is defeated by the 15-year-old girl protagonist). There is even a hint of “The Wizard of Oz,” with the inclusion of a living, talking scarecrow (a “husk”), and the Forge Born, “heartless” metal men who must be given magical hearts in order to tame them.

Ultimately what makes “The Exiled Heir” work is that it is a fun read. The pacing is sometimes a little slow, mainly because French takes time to establish the history and details of the setting, which can be difficult to do in a fantasy novel without affecting the rhythm of the story. The writing style at times has a poetic elegance, but it could have been tightened up at certain spots.

Despite these few flaws, however, there are fun ideas and intriguing characters, and this is a good setup for the rest of the series to come.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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