Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Commander and the Den Asaan Rautu

A Latinum Library BOOK REVIEW:
The Commander and The Den Asaan Rautu
The Haanta Series, Book I

5.0 out of 5 stars Truly Worthy to be called Epic Fantasy 

The Kingdom of Frewyn is being invaded by the Galleisian infantry and at the forefront of the battle is Boudicca MacDaede, a First Captain in the Frewyn armed forces. Her regiment is charged with defending the borders between the two nations, but when Frewyn’s last line of defense falls, Captain MacDaede enlists the assistance of a Haanta, one of giants from the islands to the far north. Promising to free him from his imprisonment in exchange for his help, she gains his trust long enough for them to win the battle and save the Frewyn border from being breached. The giant’s freedom is granted, but Rautu cannot return home unless he redeems himself in the eyes of his people for past his transgressions. He is offered a place by the captain’s side, and together, they defeat the Galleisian forces and become the saviors of Frewyn.

One year later, King Alasdair Brennin takes the Frewyn throne, Boudicca is made commander, Gallei and Frewyn reach an accord, and Rautu is granted an invitation home. He is eager to return and see his brothers but finds it difficult to leave Frewyn without Boudicca at his side. He has become accustomed to her company and the idea of being made to live without her begins to distress him. Rautu invites the commander to the islands in hopes of finding a way for them to remain together, but when they arrive at the white shores of Sanhedhran, not everything goes as planned: one of the dangerous Haanta magi is freed, Rautu’s three brothers are strangely missing, and the neighboring nation of Thellis leads an attack on the islands.

Together, the commander and the Den Asaan Rautu must find a way to unite their two nations and defend against the Thellisian fleets, but can they do so successfully when an envious Frewyn king, and impending war with Thellis, and a cruel Haanta military leader would keep them apart?

I recently had an opportunity to read Michelle Franklin's debut novel of The Haanta Series, The Commander and the Den Asaan Rautu. I was looking forward to it because I don't enjoy reading any other genre the way that I do epic fantasy. I read my first fantasy book at the tender age of 4 (Where the Wild Things Are) and have been hooked on fantasy literature ever since.

The book's plot synopsis seemed filled with the promise of a truly epic tale and it delivered the goods with a level of quality and style that I have seldom encountered in this genre. Michelle has obviously devoted an unimaginable amount of effort to the development of every aspect of the Haanta Series world. Every aspect of the world is rich and full with great attention to detail. Geography, politics, magic, wars and, of course, the various races that people the world are all well thought out and consistent. Nothing ruins a fantasy novel faster than contradictions or unexplained details and I am pleased to say that this book suffers from no such problems. Michelle, I believe, lives, eats and dreams in this alternate world and so is quite comfortable inviting the rest of us in to it for a visit. It's not always a pretty or a kind world but it is one imagined to its fullest potential.

As the title indicates and the plot synopsis confirms, this first book is dominated by the characters of the Commander and her Den Asaan companion Rautu. I have encountered literally thousands of characters in an untold number of fantasy novels and met few that I liked as much as this unique and unusual duo. There are quintessential tragic heroic figures brought to life in all of their greatness and all of their baseness. They are both possessed of much to be envied that is yet inescapably intertwined with much that is flawed and pitiable.

Boudicca is, without recourse, a product of her environment. Orphaned young, she sets herself the task of becoming as hard and as strong as those responsible for her situation. She rises to prominence and power while forsaking any hopes of any softer way of life. Her core of inner strength is boundless and she has paid dearly for that strength. She projects a constant, unshakable aura of control and command while, secretly, longing for all of the silly romantic aspects of life that most women have. Her sadness, her loneliness and her inescapable feelings of loss for what might have been are all palpable and persistent. She is the type of woman that many women only wish that they could be but, if they knew more, would dread ever having to become.

In Rautu, we have a character no less noble or any less flawed. Rautu is, as well, the total end product of his upbringing. As a warrior scout he has been raised in a martial culture where physical prowess and martial ferocity are not only the standard but the yardstick by which a man's worth is determined. Failure to vanquish a foe or to meet them head-on with relentless force is not an option. Rautu has an almost childlike inability to view the world in any way other than how he has been trained to see it. For him, all of the intricacies and subtleties of society are unimportant. Rautu's world view is one of stark blacks and whites. There are no shades of gray only the inability of those too weak or feeble-minded to perceive things as the properly are. Rautu, as well, has never indulged in speculation of any other way than that which he has always lived. Though he does experience bouts of doubt, self-loathing, desire and other "human" feelings, Rautu simply refuses to acknowledge their viability. His place in the world is as it should be and it is sheer foolishness to think otherwise.

Imagine then, my enjoyment in watching an unlikely relationship develop between these two primal beings. From distrust and loathing, to forced interaction, to grudging acceptance and then to an emotion that neither of them have the words or the willingness to acknowledge, it is a journey worth following along on. This is not so much a story of romance as it is a tale of self-discovery and personal growth. In this wondrous story, flawed, heroic, tragic, lovable Boudicca and Rautu fight what they fear most...their own desperate needs to be both loved and needed. They would both be mortified to discover that, if no one else ever does, we, the readers, come to love and need them both as the cornerstones of this tale. We simply can't live without them in this epic.

I found this book to be a most enjoyable read that provided me all of the best aspects of epic high fantasy that I have come to respect from the masters of this genre. I have no doubt that Michelle's name as an author of this genre will be held in the same regard as names such as Piers Anthony, David Eddings and Robert Jordan. She has a talent and skill for transporting you straight out of your mundane world and dropping you at a random spot on the Frewyn coastline with her best wishes. I can only imagine that the remaining volumes in this gargantuan project will provide the same qualities of craft work, imagination and pure fantasy enjoyment as this flagship novel has. Bravo Michelle on a tale well told!

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