Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request may disclose details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.
With Trial of Intentions due to hit shelves in May, Peter Orullian has seized the opportunity to revisit and revise the opening volume of the Vault of Heaven with his Author's Definitive Edition of The Unremembered. I haven't read the original edition, so I can't compare the two, but I can confidently say I enjoyed this new edition on its own and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of its forthcoming sequel.
This is, as some critics have accused, a largely generic epic fantasy that hits on a lot the major tropes. There's the mysterious loner who arrives on the scene to mentor and lead the quest. There are the two simple farm boys, best friends, both of whom are coming of age, and one of whom is 'chosen' to be a form of savior. There's the fallen hero who risks everything, returning from his exile on penalty of death, to do the right thing. There's the seemingly benign organization - in this case the League of Civility - that has short-sightedly put the world as risk with their fear of magic. There are also, of course, the rival empires with divided loyalties who bicker and stall, standing in the way of defeating the evil with a united front.
Now, let's be honest - all fantasy is generic to some degree, and tropes are tropes for a reason. That doesn't necessarily make for a bad book, just a familiar one. What really matters, what ultimately makes an epic fantasy something special, is what the author brings of himself to the genre, and what he does with it that's new and unique. With The Unremembered, Peter Orullian does several things that made this stand out for me.
First and foremost is his writing style. This is a very well-written story, with realistic dialogue, fantastic visuals, and a well-paced narrative. With the exception of a few conversations that are crucial for the reader to understand the mythology of this new world, there is no info dumping or unnecessary exposition. I suspect that may be one crucial difference from the original, since Orullian has said that this edition is shorter and more focused, with fewer POV shifts, but that's hardly a bad thing - and it bodes very well for the next book.
Second is his use of music. Not surprisingly, Orullian is a multi-talented man who has professionally toured as a featured vocalist. Music is in his blood, and it's also in his ink. It has power in his world, a power over mortals, over magic, and over the creatures that lurk behind the magical Veil. In fact, there is a legendary Song of Suffering that is key to the entire story, a song that only a select few can survive the singing of, and which is necessary to keeping the Veil in place. It goes deeper than that, though, with common sounds having a musical quality to them in the way they're described, and even some conversations having a lyrical aspect.
Third, and this connects closely with my next point, is the strength of the characters. Yes, many of them are based on familiar fantasy tropes or archetypes, but they are all well-defined, with distinct personalities. There's no blurring of faces or forgetting of names here. Orullian establishes each character immediately, entrenching them in our imaginations from their first appearance. They're not all likable, but they're not all supposed to be. Instead, they're all realistic, with a good bit of depth, and some real growth throughout the story. Far more than just a coming of age tale, this is also a story about coming to terms with who they are and where they've come from.
Speaking of where they've come from - and this is something that struck me as exceptionally well done - Orullian weaves a compelling theme of parental protection. Birth parents, adopted parents, and an absence of parents are all significant to the tale. The story actually opens with a young woman being accosted by a created from beyond the Veil, even as she tries to give birth to a child who is the product of rape. Another character struggles to deal with the fact of his adoption, while another comes from a race where the women die young, leaving children to be raised by a series of adopted mothers. Perhaps most significantly, that fallen hero I mentioned was exiled because of his actions involving a royal birth, and his punishment is to take the children abandoned in the Waste and find homes for them. Finally, just to keep things dark, there's also the hunger for creatures from beyond the Veil to seize children and drag them back with them.
Finally, there's the world-building and the mythology, which are always at the heart of any really good epic fantasy tale. The Unremembered is a book that mixes the sprawling sort of epic fantasy that we expect from Robert Jordan & Tad Williams with the more intimate, sometimes claustrophobic grimdark fantasy that Peter V. Brett & Mark Lawrence have made famous. Mythologically, there's a lot going on here, and Orullian doesn't waste any time throwing us to the Bourne, just one of the monsters from beyond the Veil. Historically, there's a long and complicated history to the world, involving heroes, villains, sacrifices, betrayals, and strained alliances. Politically, it's just as complicated, with those rival empires, divided loyalties, and the taint of the League of Civility I mentioned earlier. It's a book that demands some patience in terms of explanations, but I was well satisfied by the end that I understood what was going on and why.
Ultimately, The Unremembered is not a book that's going to greatly challenge you or thrust you far outside your comfort zone. It's not a ground-breaking work or one that's destined to shatter genre expectations. Enter into it with an appreciation for familiar fantasy tropes, however, and you will find yourself well-rewarded with a darker, more mature sort of epic fantasy that has a lot of flair and a lot of depth to be enjoyed.
Paperback, 480 pages
Expected publication: April 7th 2015 by Tor Books
(first published March 31st 2011