Review: Feylander / Author: Liz Noble / Publisher: Noble Servant Books / Release Date: Out Now
The self-published debut of English fantasy author Liz Noble, Feylander is the first novel of a planned series named The Dreamer’s Chronicles, taking us deep underground into a sun-starved world of lost history, ancient feuds and uneasy alliances.
After a long ago event – the precise details of which are lost to time – magic vanished from the world and the Fey who once ruled the skies lost their wings and fell to earth, forced underground to endure a lifestyle they were never suited for. Four hundred years later, orphaned princess Isabelle ascends to power as Queen of the Feylanders. Young, impetuous and mistakenly believed by most to be a simpleton, she soon proves her detractors wrong and begins ruling her own way. Not content to passively sit as the disposable figurehead of a governing council, she sets out to better her nation for the lives of its citizens, as well as those they must deal with. Soon after, a chance encounter sets her on a path that could change the fate of her entire people. The only question is what it will require her to sacrifice to see it through to the end.
There’s nothing revelatory about observing that a self-published book can often make people wary of its potential quality. With its synonym of “vanity publishing” often turning out to be accurate, the process has garnered a reputation as an assurance of literary inadequacy. However, not everyone fires the first draft of the previous year’s NaNoWriMo effort into Smashwords and hopes for the best; as independent publishing becomes a viable alternative for authors disillusioned with the mercenary attitudes of large publishing houses, increasingly greater care is taken over the quality of books before they are released into the unforgiving wilds of the Internet. Happily, Feylander is one of the more positive examples of a self-published novel, and an indication of what can eventually be achieved when enough time and sanity has been sacrificed at the altar of its development.
Isabelle is a remarkable and highly engaging protagonist. Self-reliant, intelligent, stubborn and not above delivering withering put downs to people who annoy her, she certainly owes more than a little to the heroines of Terry Pratchett. That said, she’s a lot more than just Magrat with pointy ears. Her sense of responsibility over her tiny nation compels her to do all she can to maintain her position, even though stepping aside would mean an end to all her problems and obligations. She is, perhaps, a little too worldly for someone as young as she is, but when a girl’s parents are murdered in front of her as a small child and she grows up under the constant threat of assassination, a certain wisdom beyond her years is understandable.
For a debut author crafting a fantasy setting, it can be a tempting shortcut to go down the well-trodden route of a pseudo-medieval realm populated by some combination of elves, orcs, dwarves and humans. Noble, however, envisions a less bog-standard and much more elaborate world. As well as the Fey (wingless fairies) in their underground realm of mud and rock, other species seen consist of the Uoi (humanoid rabbits), the Treejumpers (bandit-like squirrels) and the Drimh (black-eyed creatures of personified malevolence). Tiny individuals from a real-world perspective, these races are of the size where a bird is a lethal force streaking from the sky like a feathered lightning bolt, a mole is a destructive monster burrowing through homes without effort and people without thought, and a rat is the equivalent of the wolf goddess Moro from Princess Mononoke. Later in the book there is even an entire city contained within a hollowed out oak tree.
Noble also dispenses with the usual tactic of introducing a clueless audience surrogate to ask expository questions. Instead, the world is organically revealed to us through Isabelle’s journey as circumstances motivate her to investigate precisely why the magic disappeared, the stories and myths of the forgotten past eventually playing their part in the plot’s development.
Although the ending of Feylander is a complete resolution, The Dreamer’s Chronicles is envisioned as an ongoing series and the way is left wide open for further instalments to expand on the intricate basics it sets out. Can’t wait.