Friday, September 12, 2008

The Outcasts of Skagaray

Title: The Outcasts of Skagaray

Author: Andrew Clarke

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Excerpt from Chapter 1, “The Laws of Skagaray”:

The man’s eyes were red. In the smoky fire-light beside him, they glowed like a maddened animal ready to attack. As Tarran watched, the man bared his teeth. He glared at the young ones sitting in front of hi and the look in his eyes made them quail. He saw the fear in their faces and for a heartbeat the snarl became a cruel smile.

He was a Slayer, a Warrior and an Elder. These younglings should fear, the man thought in his shriveled heart. If they fear me, they will watch what I do, hear what I say, and I can shape them. I can make them what they should be—fighters and killers.

He ran an evil stare around the room, fixing every child briefly in the eye.

“Hear the Instruction,” he rasped. “Learn the ways of this people.”

He paused, letting the words hang in the air. So complete was the silence that the soft hissing of the fire could be heard. Then he began, “In the dark times, unnumbered summers ago, our forebears came to Skagaray. They came in long boats over the Wide Sea. There were storms, the seas in a rage such as you have never seen. This was to test their hearts. There were quarrels among them, as there will always be among a fierce people. Some of them died at the hands of others. And this was as it must be! It was part of the proving!”

Tarran, the son of a warrior, rejects his superiors’ lust for blood, only to become an outcast and the target of that blood-lust.

The Writing: The Outcasts of Skagaray is what I’d call a diamond in the rough.

On the surface, the writing is poor. There are an abundance of typographical errors, redundancies, overdone explanations, extraneous words, and head-hopping. Overall, the text needs a thorough line edit.

But if you can look past the poor mechanics—what a story! I know a few authors who could take a lesson or two from Mr. Clarke.

The world is complex, real, and organic, lacking the inconsistencies propped up with convoluted explanations that some fantasies have. And though alien to a reader like me, this world is easily grasped and 100% believable.

Then there are the characters. Flawed. Motivated, yet with the mixed emotions that every human wrestles with. The villains are evil incarnate—yet in an understandable way. The protagonists are varied, sympathetic, and easy to root for, especially for someone like me who has a soft spot for underdogs.

As for the plotting, this is a slow-cooker. Mr. Clarke doesn’t dump you into the fire, but like a skillful hunter, he lures you into a pot of cool water. Not until it’s too late to escape do you realize that the pot sits over a hot fire, slowly warming the water to boiling.

So The Outcasts of Skagaray portrays the need for good mechanics. But it also reminds us that in the end, story is more important.

The Story: A classic tale of good versus evil, The Outcasts of Skagaray bring together themes such as sacrifice, releasing anger, forgiveness, and the value of every human life against a background of the true source of power. There is neither preachiness nor hyper-religiosity, but Mr. Clarke ties his story and content together so you can barely see where one starts and the other ends.

I’m also impressed with the lack of blood on the page considering the blood-lusting society of the book. For me this is an excellent example of the power of suggestion: despite what you don’t see, you never doubt the ugliness of the evil, underestimate what it is capable of, or scoff at the danger of the outcasts.

The Summary: The Outcasts of Skagaray is an excellent story and worthwhile read, especially if you’re willing to look past some of the problems in the mechanics of the writing. It’s easily accessible to those less familiar with the fantasy genre, and the bloodless portrayal of violence opens this book to teens and even some preteens as well as adults.

Rating: Writing—1.0, Content—3.0, Overall—4.0

1 comment:

Valerie Comer said...

Hey, congrats on Genesis! You must be excited. I realized I don't have your email address when I went to email you, so thought I'd comment here.