Book Review:Heroes of the Fallen

Heroic fantasy, the kind of tales that Robert E. Howard wrote, that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote, that more recent writers such as David Gemmell wrote, is driven by the engine of sheer imagination more than any other genre, with the possible exception of SF. Good stories can be told in the field without venturing much beyond the seminal imagination of a Howard or a Burroughs, but it’s very nice when you find an original vision at work. I’ve found one of those in David J. West (http://david-j-west.blogspot.com/), whose Heroes of the Fallen has imagination in spades. The world created by West is fully realized and backed up by both firm historical knowledge and a good feel for mythology.

The setting for Heroes is not the common pseudo-European one, either, but a dynamic “New World” one that provides all the same potentialities for storytelling without retracing the steps of earlier writers. West combines Mesoamerican history and myth with the stories and history found in The Book of Mormon to create a truly unique brand of heroic fantasy fiction. In places, the book reminds me of the fine 2006 movie Apocalypto, although I understand from the author of Heroes of the Fallen that the book was written before that movie came out. Both the book and the movie capture the essence of heroic literature while giving it a seldom seen Mesoamerican flavor.

If imagination is the engine for Heroic Fantasy, fine prose is the fuel. Here, too, West achieves. I’m a sucker for good poetical prose, for heightened language that draws you into the exotic worlds that the best Heroic Fantasy creates. Some of the absolutely finest writing in Heroes of the Fallen is found in the prologue: “bittersweet music of battle,” “vaulted sky matches the raw ground,” “cross guards of swords jutting,” “white howl of the wolf,” but there are wonderful little turns of phrase all the way through and the prose has the strong visual element that fantasy needs to become real.

The characters that West created for his story are powerful and original. I liked his heroes, loathed his villains. I could see the beginnings of character development in some of them, but this is only volume one in what is planned to become a series. I felt at times that there were almost too many characters, but the story will ultimately be a complicated and wide ranging one so West needed to introduce a lot of the players in this first volume. I understand from a brief email exchange with West that the second volume in the series will thin the character herd a bit. One thing that would have been helpful in the book is a Dramatis Persona page. It would certainly be a good idea for the sequel.

Overall, I much enjoyed immersing myself in West’s world. It has a history and mythology that I wasn’t very familiar with before, particularly from The Book of Mormon. I’ll admit that I was a bit leery when I first found out the connection between the story and The Book of Mormon. I was worried about a certain “preachiness,” but I needn’t have been concerned. Although some of the lead characters in the story were indeed quite strong in their beliefs, it helps to add to the realism of the tale and doesn’t come across as a screed on the part of the author. I still have much to learn about the background for the story, of course, but it’s fascinating so far and I’ll look forward to the next installment.

Do be aware that Heroes of the Fallen does not complete the story that is introduced in the prologue of the book. There is an ending to the tale, but only an interim ending that doesn’t satisfy all the questions of how, when, and why. The second book, which is scheduled for publication in 2011 and is currently entitled Blood of Our Fathers, will bring the initial story arc to closure. I’ll be looking forward to it.

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