Friday, February 5, 2010
The Hickory Staff: The Eldarn Sequence Book 1
I remember I picked The Hickory Staff up when it was first published in 2005. The cover with it's aged look and simple drawing attracted me at first. I read a few pages, was uncertain, and sought out some reviews, as they were mostly negative I decided against adding the book to my ever growing to be read pile. I recently saw it again on a 50% off table and thought I'd give it a chance. Admittedly I know that saying I only bought the book because it was cheap isn't the best recommendation.
For someone who says they don't really like portal fantasy I seem to read a lot of it. Make no mistake The Hickory Staff is most definitely portal fantasy. It takes a while to really begin the story, readers get 5 prologue chapters and are 50 pages in before they meet the main character; small town assistant bank manager Steven Taylor. The story is well set up by this time and up until this point it seems more of a horror novel than a fantasy one.
Steven is conducting an audit of the bank's open account files, this leads him to an account that hasn't been accessed since it was first opened in 1870, and a safety deposit box. Something about the account and the box intrigues Steven, and going against bank policy and his bosses advice Steven attempts to open the box, he is encouraged in this endeavour by his best friend and room mate; highschool history teacher Mark Jenkins. The key that belongs to the box doesn't open it. While searching for a key to an antique cabinet that he has bought for his sister, Steven improbably finds the key to the safety deposit box and he also meets Hannah Sorenson, with whom he falls in love.
Both Steven and Mark and disappointed when they open the box and it's contents are a rosewood box that contains a rock, and a cylinder with a large tapestry in it. Sensing that there is something odd about both objects, they spread the tapestry out on the floor. By accident the two men find out that stepping on the tapestry pulls them into another world. A pre industrial world called; Eldarn.
Unfortunately once in Eldarn they cannot simply step back into their own world. They're stuck in Eldarn. All of Eldarn, including it's two large islands and the two smaller ones has been ruled by the evil overlord Nerak for over a century. Unsurprisingly a resistance to their dark and brutal ruler has sprung up in Eldarn. Equally unsurprising is that Steven and Mark become involved with one of the partisan bands.
The characters are those that people most high fantasy stories: the brilliantly talented young archer, feisty, but attractive young lady, her protective and angry older brother, the crafty old man who has been hiding a mysterious past and has magical ability. Mark falls in love with Brynne; the feisty, but attractive young lady and Steven finds that he is the wielder of great and destructive power contained in a hickory staff. The rock that they found in the rosewood box is the key to breaking the evil presence that controls Eldarn.
There are three separate stories that play out in the book. Mark and Steven and their band of partisans, the journey of Versen; formerly one of the partisans and Brexan, a disillusioned young soldier who was working for the king, but has been turned against him and what he stands for. The third story is that of Hannah, who has also found her way to Eldarn through the tapestry while looking for her mysteriously missing boyfriend. She has hooked up with 3 other resistance fighters in a different part of Eldarn. The three groups are on a collision course as they make their way through the pitfalls of Eldarn while avoiding doom from the forces of Nerak.
Despite the cliched characters and the shallow world building the action was well written and story caught me up. I did wonder about the choice of Steven as the hero, the character was awfully bland and annoyingly self flagellatory. The authors paid lip service to the concept that violence does not solve everything by having Steven and Garec (the archer), in particular, torture themselves mentally every time they used their talents to kill. There are a lot of things wrong with The Hickory Staff, but it's interested me enough to make me want to read; Lessek's Key, the 2nd of the trilogy.
It's an easy read and entertaining as long as you can get past the faults in it. If you're looking for George Martin or Joe Abercrombie then look elsewhere. If you want Brent Weeks or David Eddings then this may be worth picking up.