Thursday, December 3, 2015

Acacia: War With The Mein Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: David Anthony Durham
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Low Fantasy
Series: Acacia Book One
Pages: 592

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War With The Mein is the first book in the Acacia Trilogy, a fantasy series written by David Anthony Durham. With the third book recently completed Durham looks to contribute to the fantasy genre’s impressive growing canon, which is something he does successfully with the first installment of this trilogy.

This book will undoubtedly draw comparisons to A Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy series by George R.R. Martin that spawned the HBO show Game of Thrones. Multidimensional characters, major character deaths, and complex decision and power struggles lay the foundation for the first book of the Acacia Trilogy. These great storytelling elements form a novel that is worthy of a Game of Thrones comparison.

War With The Mein introduces readers to the Akaran Dynasty the ruling family of the Acacian Empire, an empire that encompasses all of the Known World. Their seat of power lies on the island of Acacia, where the King Leodan rules over the empire and raises his four children. Although Leodan is a good father, his empire and family prospers through slavery, and the masses are kept in check with a powerfully addictive drug called mist. Due to the seclusion of their island, Leodan’s children remain ignorant of the horrors of their world outside of their opulent island paradise of Acacia.

In the far northern portions of his empire, Hanish Mein plots to overthrow the Akaran Dynasty and free the known world from Akaran rule. The stability of the Akaran Empire is threatened both from the outside and by betrayers close to the family. As the situation escalates, Leodan’s children are evacuated from Acacia to four separate corners of the empire, where they grow up, come of age, learn the plights of the common people, and learn the truth about how the Akaran Dynasty has maintained their power.

A Song of Ice and Fire has been arguably the most innovative and influential fantasy series since Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. To be compared favorably with that series in the fantasy genre is a remarkable accomplishment. Acacia is worthy of this comparison. A lot of similarities between A Song of Ice and Fire and Acacia are present, especially in the first half of the book. However, the similarities which are coincidental, break apart in the second half of the book, allowing Acacia to become its own story.

The most notable character similarities are between the Stark children and the Akaran children. The oldest Akaran son Aliver bares a lot similarities to Robb Stark, the oldest Akaran daughter is very similar to Sansa Stark, the youngest Akaran daughter is similar to Arya Stark, and the youngest Akaran son is similar to Bran Stark (at least before he becomes a paraplegic). The Akaran children are the central characters in this story, so if you like the Stark’s then the Akaran’s might suit you as well.

However, by the half way point of the novel the Akaran children begin to change tremendously due to their new living locations, and they begin to become characters of their own that are unique to the world of Acacia.

Magic elements are present in Acacia but they are kept at minimum, keeping the mystique that magic can provide a story. This allows for a great sense of wonder and mystery.

The story, which is told in third person through a select few narrators, gives readers insight to the thought processes and motivations of the Akaran children, the King, his counselors, the Mein, and various other characters who are apart of the Acacian Empire. Good vs. Evil is never clearly defined in this novel, much like it is in real life. The decisions made by all of the characters have far reaching consequences that can be seen either positively or negatively depending on your perspective.

Ultimately,the thing I admire most about this story is that it is about people trying to make their world a better place to live in, a concept that is explored in a unique way throughout the book.
The major issue with this novel is pacing. The story is divided into three books. The first book sets everything in motion and is virtually perfect. However, the other two books take place a number of years after the first book, allowing the narrative to move a lot quicker, but it comes at the cost of character development. Although the characters are strongly developed, the story would be near perfect if crucial aspects of their development were not chronologically passed up.

The pacing also takes away from climactic points in the narrative, making them less emotional than they could be. If War With The Mein was a longer novel a lot of these issues could have been dealt with. However, the narrative does move at a very brisk pace after the first third of the book, creating a compelling fast paced story.

War With The Mein is a great start to one of the better fantasy series I’ve come across in recent years. The plot is not predictable, and the outcome of the novel was not what I had predicted from the outset. This is hard to do in a genre that has a tradition based in good conquering evil. Instead Acacia acknowledges the workings of good and evil and does not attribute these characteristics to any one character or group of people.

If you are fan of George R.R. Martin’s books or if you are like the show Game of Thrones, Acacia comes highly recommended. The philosophical ideas and the writing ideals between both authors are similar, yet despite these similarities they tell two very different stories. Two very noticeable differences are the pace and the thematic content of the stories. War With Mein moves at much faster pace than Martin’s series, and thematically focuses more on trying to improve the world they live in, rather than examining the complicated cause and effect aspects of power.

Score: 9.1

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