…by Tom Llloyd. In The Stormcaller, a book set amidst a traditional medieval background of nobles and prophets, sorcerors and heroes, the reader quickly meets a series of powerful characters having portentous dreams and visions. As is often the case with this particular convention, these visions are confusing and grim with their foreshadowing, though thankfully not too long.
At the center of the story and these visions we have Isak, the son of a poor oxcart drover, who also happens to be a white-eye. In Lloyd’s world, white-eyes are gods-touched people with enhanced strength, speed, longevity, and magical ability. They’re sort of a cross between Olympian heroes (think Perseus, Jason, etc.) and comic book mutants (they develop their abilities in earnest after puberty, have to learn to control them, etc.). They also have terrible tempers. These white-eyes tend to become soldiers or powerful leaders, but are usually feared and held at arms’ length to the rest of human society. Some become avatar-like representatives of the world’s pantheon of gods. Isak, we quickly learn, is one of these.
Isak’s plan is to join the Farlan Army as soon as he is of age, but before he can do that a stranger appears with cryptic messages and offers of gifts. Instead, Isak finds himself on the run, accused of witchery and other foul deeds. But Lord Bahl, the ruler of Farlan, a white-eye and chosen of Nartis (God of Storms) learns that his heir, or Krann, has arrived, His abilities quickly point to Isak. At the same time, gifts arrive for Isak – a powerful sword and suit of mystic armor not seen in the land for centuries. So Isaak quickly goes from the lower classes to heir to the throne, while learning to control his powers and abilities. He befriends a young lady of the palace, Tila, who begin teaches him the palace politics. Lord Bahl remains aloof but patient as he trains and presents Isak to the other nobles, then sends him out at the head of the army to deal with an elvish uprising. There are more portentous dreams and visions.
You could almost dismiss The Stormcaller as overly familiar, high fantasy of the type we see again and again. But Tom Lloyd is obviously cognizant of these conventions and has taken pains to avoid too many of the old pitfalls. One strength is the overall complexity, which includes numerous sidebar chapters with powerful characters elsewhere in the world. These characters deal with what appears to be a gathering of forces, human and otherworldly, that will no doubt lead to grand battles to come later in the series. And while these jumps away from Isak and the core narrative can be jarring, they’re well executed, always contain vital bits of history and world building, and are never too long or inflated. It’s a style you’ll see in other epics from the likes of George R. R. Martin or Steven Erikson.
Another strength is how the author sets the white-eyes apart from society while also explaining their part there. Isak and his peers are essentially super heroes with swords. They are feared, respected, envied, but never wholly accepted. It’s reminiscent of some of the better comic book hero themes. And Lloyd handles these powerful characters with more skill and care than some other recent examples (Brent Weeks’ Night Angel series comes to mind). Think of it as storytelling from the perspective of someone like Gandalf (when he was younger) rather than the hobbits. Isak is often confused and unsure about his new abilities and has to deal with the consequences of his powers as well.
Most importantly (for this reviewer anyway), the book has good characterization. As Isak begins to gather his allies and confidants, especially in the second half of the book when he undertakes his diplomatic mission to the Three Cities, the character interactions become better and better. Maybe because Lloyd is finding his stride, maybe because, much of the backstory and world-building can take a backseat to the main thrust of the plot. Whatever the reason, it’s this element of the writing that will have me looking for other books in the series sometime soon. There are a lot of writers attempting to do high fantasy; the number who can do it with effective characterization often seems much lower.
Oh, and I strongly approve of how Lloyd ends up dealing with the topics of prophecy/destiny in this book (a hideously over-used crutch of the genre, IMHO). I look forward to picking up his next book in the Twilight Reign series, The Twilight Herald.