Acacia Book One The War With The Mein-- David Anthony Durham-- Review
This is the story of an invasion of a fantasy empire, Acacia, by a foreign people the Mein. The Acacians are a dark skinned desert people represented by the Acacia tree. The Mein are a light skinned people from a cold northern land that remind me a bit of the Finns or Laplanders.
The Mein are seeking vengeance for the Acacians driving them north into the frozen tundra for many generations. They had to survive in a harsh environment. The Mein worship their ancestors and wish to seek revenge for the slights received by the Acacians years ago. They also despise the Acacians slave keeping and trade in the drug called the mist.
The opening story is a story of brutal conquest. I rather like it because the writer does not hold back, he describes all the tools of war. The Mein use disease on the Acacians, surprise attack, subterfuge and treachery in their initial bid to seize power. There is a wonderful description of the assassination of the Acacian emperor. The assassin announces his name after he succeeds to prove he did it.
However, after the conquest initially succeeds, the Mein fail to capture the royal family. This leads to the second part of the book where the royal family grows up. One of them becomes a raider, another a living goddess, another a hunter and warrior, and the last a captive of the Meinish court.
There is a sense in the writing that the author is drawing from North African and Scandinavian history to create a unique clash of cultures. This makes the story very interesting. You can even see in parts where he is using the story of the Barbary pirates. The Mein are not mainland Europeans.
Mixed in the unique setting is the use of very dark subject matters, the drug trade, and the slave trade in building imperial power. The drug is Mist a kind of will sapping substance which is smoked.
The magic in this story is not the kind of thing where wizards throw thunderbolts and summon strange creatures. It is much more subtle. There is a strange and terrible race in support of the Mein, the Numrek, a race of giant cannibals who ride furry rhinoceros creatures who come from deep in the frozen ice fields. The magical elements when they are described don't seem too gripping. They need to provoke more of a sense of wonder.
The writing is solid but not astounding. I think he could have described the physical surroundings of the characters a little better.
It is the uniqueness of the setting, and the willingness to cover dark topics which separates this novel from other fantasy novels. Also, there is a focus on the details in the battles which is unique. The author does an excellent job of describing bow, spear, sword, knife and axe fighting. He even describes a set of martial forms which the Acacians use in their fighting.
The final part of this book is how the Acacians retake their throne. This part of the story has a lot of court intrigue in it. It has an interesting surprise ending which is very different from what I expected. I will definitely read the second book in this series when it comes out.