When diving into a new fantasy saga, I generally look for four things:
1. A solid, subtle sense of world-building
2. An inventive, yet plausible, system of magic
3. A well-rounded cast of characters
4. Narrative development, as opposed to info-dumping
I was pleasantly surprised to find that A World Apart fulfilled all four requirements. David M. Brown has crafted a winning fantasy here, one that is dark and gritty, but not completely bereft of a sense of adventure. Pirate tales are often tricky, at best, but it's the world in which the story is set, the seas upon which they sail, and the magic to be found that really make this work.
This is a relatively long tale, one that passes through multiple generations, with a pace that adds additional weight to the tale. It doesn't drag, not by any means, but it's also not a book to be devoured in a single setting. Brown gives us time to get to know his characters, and develops a strong connection with each of them for the reader. It's hard to pick a 'hero' or a 'favourite' with whom to take sides, they're so evenly matched, but that's part of the charm. Demetrius is definitely an interesting protagonist, as flawed as he is multi-faceted, but in terms of sheer originality, I have to say it was Eleyna who really stole the show.
I'd be remiss not to at least say a few words about the Aeonian, the pirate ship that serves as the stage for so much of the action. As well-stocked as it is well-crewed, this is the fantasy equivalent of a contemporary kick-ass, over-the-top battleship. It feels authentic, and really serves to ground the story.
Despite the slow pacing and often dense narrative, A World Apart is a book of surprising emotional depth. The battle scenes are electric, with equal parts drama and excitement, and the personal confrontations are often as painful as they are heart-breaking. Like I said, Brown makes you care about these characters, and really makes you believe in their conflicts. More importantly, whereas some authors use different narrative points-of-view to either pad a thin tale or take a lazy approach to exposing motivations, Brown subtly changes the story with each narrative shift, creating a layered tale that's as compelling as it is intricate.
If you're looking for a different sort of fantasy, one that isn't afraid to take chances with expectations, this is definitely a solid read that's sure to entertain.
Published June 16th 2012 by CreateSpace
Paperback, 822 pages