"I know what I am. And I know what the Cerendar is" - Tashnark
Remis is a young newly graduated spellbinder who wants to start her own magical artefacts business. She finds this is going to be harder than she thought as a powerful Merchant House is putting pressure on Remis and is trying to intimidate her into working for them. Even worse she is having nightmares about a hideous undead being; put your own Tony Abbott joke in here. Also living in the city of Ko'erpel-Na is Tashnark, the son of a commercial slaver, who is having his own dreams in which he is a mighty warrior named Bellaroth, who is on a quest in some strange other world that happens to be on the back of a vast cosmic monster.
Remis and Tashnark meet and this set's in train a quest that will pull in others, involve dark magics and necromancy, and bring the attention of the Gods themselves. Fail in their task and their world will be destroyed as warring Gods confront each other. The pair and their allies must find a lost artefact called the Cerendar, and deduce its purpose before it falls into the hands of the disciples of evil. A resurrected corpse holds the key; Remis and Tashnark have to figure out which future it unlocks.
Before anyone gets real upset and starts firing off indignant emails, we have covered Fantasy before on this site and will no doubt do so in the future. Basically we'll cover the other "white meat" of speculative fiction if it has a darker side, monsters, or a psychotic evil clown. That's the way we roll here folks, so while Fantasy isn't huge for us we are certainly not going to miss a decent read due to semantics. Actually an editorship decision was taken while we were off the net to cover Science Fiction and Fantasy if it can be argued that there's a dark edge to an individual piece of work.
Which of course brings me to the subject at hand, Robert Hood's most excellent Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead. We have covered Robert's work previously on site, his horror collections, and the Young Adult orientated series Shades, but it's been a while since we talked a new Hood release. For the record while Valarl Undead is through and through a Fantasy novel it doesn't delve into Dwarfs, Elves, Unicorns, or the other normal fauna that every novel in the genre you pick up seems to feature. What we do get is I guess a zombie, necromancers, demons, dark gods, you can see why I'm bright eyed and bushy tailed about the novel. Central to the narrative however is the concept of heroism in the face of overwhelming odds and a quest to be undertaken, both vital to Fantasy and used by Peter Straub and Stephen King of course in their fantasy collaborations. I mentioned there's also a zombie right, and dark satanic rites?
What was really impressing me with Valarl Undead however was that the Novelist, bless his heart, dispensed with the usual trappings of Fantasy - young person discovers they have a power then off they go on a quest with Elves and donkeys and such - and went with more adult orientated characters. Robert Hood seems well aware of the genre he is working in but chooses a path less travelled and takes the Fantasy novel up a notch in the process. This is not a novel aimed at dreamy tween chicks with sparkling vampire posters on their walls, this is a blood and guts tale aimed at the adult reader. Was I ready to read something like that? Oh hell yeah, Robert Hood had me at page two and I was reading like a banshee till the final paragraph, assuming here banshees read real fast of course.
But just when you think Robert Hood may be simply dwelling on the human plan the novel takes a sort of metaphysical journey into other more surreal realms. There's a rich texture to the novel that will keep you engrossed in the differing worlds the Author expertly and apparently effortlessly creates. While it can be an achievement to create a single alien environment and culture to set your novel in, it's a real achievement when you create multiple worlds, as Robert Hood does here. Now I'm not going to say this will appeal to every Fantasy fan, but serious fans and gosh darn it readers with Adult levels of interpretation are going to rock out to Robert Hood's flights of fancy here.
If I had to compare Robert Hood's Valarl Undead to another novel I guess I would go with Gene Wolfe's Shadow of the Torturer, there's the same elusiveness to the prose that requires careful reading and interpretation. Except from memory Wolfe doesn't include honking big creatures, Robert Hood loves a giant monster or two in his prose. Now hopefully I haven't lost anyone in that comparison, if I have then break it down to the prose is beautifully written but takes a while to roll with and requires concentration. If you won't it broken down further then you are being obtuse and should go back to your Justin Bieber records!
I may be giving the impression that the novel is a tough read, you shouldn't take it lightly but equally most readers will be able to pass muster with it. Robert Hood draws his characters well, they are a fairly motley crew but easily identifiable from each other, you won't need to go back pages to work out who is who. Likewise the plot is fairly easy to comprehend, yes you can read Valarl Undead over a period of days without forgetting some obscure plot detail that requires re-reading, Robert Hood draws his narrative in broad strokes. But, and this is the important bit, the Author isn't toning his language down, if your normal reading material is Young Adult level then this novel might just be a bit daunting.
Now in case this all makes you uncertain if you should tackle Robert Hood's latest novel head on I have some good news for you, you can read three companion pieces free of charge right here. That's right folks a try before you buy option, now that should indicate that Robert Hood is fairly confident you will be making that purchase, which is precisely my recommendation.
For the purposes of this review I read an epub version of Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead on a Kobo e-reader, so have no idea of the quality of the print edition.
So it was pretty cool to touch bases with Robert Hood again after quite some time, nice to see how the lad's writing style has moved along, and a change of pace to read a Fantasy novel. What was really cool was I didn't get what I was expecting. No Elves, Dwarfs, rainbow farting unicorns, nope I got demons, a zombie, and some dark forces. Even better I got a novel where the Writer was taking it seriously and turning in stylish prose that is light years ahead of the mush coming out of certain New York publishing houses recently. I would be sorry to see Robert Hood go the Fantasy path, he pens a bloody good ghost story, but if this is the level of Fantasy the Author is capable of producing then Fantasy's gain is horror's loss. Full recommendation, best Fantasy novel release this year for mine, you want a serious read then dial F for Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead.
Rather than list the myriad places you can get a copy of the novel, both in print and electronic versions, set your browser for a multitude of options.