Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Review: The Pirates of Alnari by Dan Eldredge

Click the Cover to See on Amazon
Click the Cover to See on Amazon
Please pardon the forthcoming preface, but I think it's important to set this review in the proper context...

The indie publishing explosion over the last few years has given a lot of people the opportunity to dust off their "desk drawer novels". You know, that book you wrote back when you were in grad school, typed on your girlfriends Mac in the wee hours of the morning? As soon as you got a real job, you left your dreams of becoming a writer behind, figuring there's no way you had the time or connections to break into the world of big time publishing. But it's still there, a printout sitting in your desk drawer, a little battered and faded, but every so often, you take it out, thumb through it, and wonder about what it might have been like to be a "Novelist".

Well, thanks to new technologies such as tablets, ebook readers, print-on-demand services, and so forth, becoming a published author is well within the reach of anyone who has the time and energy to tackle the process. Of course "The Process" is a 600-pound Sumo wrestler, and he's pretty unforgiving. Those folks who just re-type that desk drawer novel and throw it up on Amazon expecting to reap the royalties from thousands of ebook sales are in for a rude awakening. Even the people who follow all the advice and recommendations they see online given by dozens of successful indie authors may well find themselves staring at the "brown bar of shame" - the colored indicator in Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing report page that shows no sales for the month.

Years ago, a college friend of mine mentioned to me that he'd written a few fantasy novels, and asked if I'd wanted to read them. at the time (probably back in the early 90's) he'd farmed the manuscripts out to the usual Sci-Fi / Fantasy houses, and hadn't had any luck. I gave them a read, and although they were the works of an amateur author, I still found them fun and enjoyable stories. But as time went on and we both grew older, not only did I give up my own notions of becoming an author, but so did my friend. These became his "desk drawer novels".

Flash forward more than a decade. After helping me as a beta reader, editor, and endless source of support and counsel regarding my own books, my friend Dan decided to take the best of his old novels, strip it down to its barest elements, and re-write the entire book from soup to nuts. This process took more than a year, and after the draft was written there was the editing, beta reading, discussions of plot and character, so on and so forth. "The Process" is a real bear under the best of circumstances, but Dan's a busy guy, with a full time job and two young kids who keep him on his toes 24/7, so taking the journey from desk drawer novel to a completely rewritten manuscript ready for publishing was especially daunting.

At the end of it all, however, the result is a damn fine book.

The Pirates of Alnari is a "hard fantasy" novel, meaning it is set in a different world, but there is no magic, no elves, no demons or wizards, dungeons or dragons. You could consider it an alternate reality or an Earth that never was. The setting is roughly analogous to 15th-16th century Europe, although there are elements that feel more 18th or early 19th century. Regardless, the level of detail and realism is such that you are quickly pulled into the setting, and any notion that this is a "fantasy" world falls by the wayside.

The story revolves around two young noblemen, Martyn and Arycke. The book begins with them having just participated in something horrible and violent, but the details are left hidden to the reader - this is important, because the mystery of what happened will be slowly revealed throughout the book. Needless to say, there is more than one side to the story. The two young men feel that they need to flee the country, and so travel to the nearest port city and book passage on the first ship that'll get them away. Their ship is the Selene, an Isalian navy frigate willing to take on a few passengers during her voyage. Martyn and Arycke have never taken a sea voyage before, and the experience is new and exciting - even more so, when a beautiful young woman is brought on board as another passenger, along with her ever-watchful grandfather. Arycke, who has an ever-roving eye, immediately begins pursuing the young woman, much to Martyn's annoyance.

The sea voyage quickly turns deadly serious, however, when the ship encounters a pirate vessel. Being a Navy frigate, it is the Selene's duty to deal with pirates wherever they are found. But the battle against the pirates turns into a much more brutal affair than first expected, and the Selene is badly damaged. The ship is eventually lost on a reef during a storm, and the survivors - about a hundred of the ship's crew and the passengers - are stranded along a foreign coast.

Unfortunately for the survivors, the coast they're now inhabiting is claimed by pirates. A whole city of pirates.

I don't want to give away any more of the plot. However, what progresses from this point on is a whirlwind of battles and intrigue, murder and revenge, plot and counter-plot. Characters have multiple agendas and not everyone is as they seem. The survivors of the shipwreck must struggle to avoid capture or death at the hands of different pirate factions, as well as the threat of mutiny among their own number. The pirates constantly maneuver against each other for dominance over Alnari, using any means - violence, sex, money, political influence - at their disposal.

The author holds the works of George R. R. Martin, especially his Song of Ice and Fire series, in high regard, and its influence on the book is evident by both the complex relationships among the characters, and the stark brutality of the combat sequences. The author is well-versed in swordsmanship and medieval combat, and this comes through in the many swordfights throughout the book. Limbs are sheared away, heads roll, guts spill, and blood is drawn by the bucketful. Not only are the battles violent and well-scripted, but it is clear from early on that no character is safe from the author's killing stroke.

Also evident is the author's knowledge of the Age of Sail. There are many details regarding ship navigation and operation, as well as the day to day lives of those aboard ships, and the organization of sailing navies and their military exploits. Although the setting is analogous to the 1400s and early 1500s, the maritime aspects of the book seem to carry the influence of master maritime novelist Patrick O'Brian, whose Napoleonic naval adventures are second to none. Fans of O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin novels will feel right at home in this book, despite the otherworldly setting.

Overall, The Pirates of Alnari is a strong, exciting adventure and displays the author's skill as a storyteller. While this is Dan Eldredge's first published novel, I know we'll see more works from him in the years to come, and I look forward to reading them.

Currently The Pirates of Alnari is only available on Amazon as an ebook, but the paperback should be available in early 2013.

1 comment:

Victor Raymond said...

Definitely looks like an interesting read. More and more authors are doing this sort of thing, and it will be interesting to see how the "Big Six" respond to this. As for "Pirates" methinks I am going to order a copy.