01/07/2009. Contributed by Phil Jones
pub: TOR-UK. 314 page enlarged paperback. Price: £10.99 (UK). ISBN: 1-4050-5074-8 pub: TOR-UK. 500 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 1-330-43636-8.
check out website: www.toruk.com www.panmacmillan.com and www.swarmthief.com
Well, if were just to glance at this book you could easily just dismiss it as a typical fantasy novel. Fairly unusually, the story revolves around insects and invertebrates. There are a few fantasy novels that come to mind that include insects as a major element but on the whole it tends to be your more usual orcs, goblins, dwarfs and the like (thanks, Mister Tolkien). It does have magic and sword-wielding heroes. The insects or swarms form a sort of hive mind which under certain circumstances can form a large creature in the shape of a dragonfly.
The underlying story which drives this series is that of the gods. Aria, one of the six Nulefi, is cast down into the underworld for offering immortality to a human. Rann the God of the Underworld falls hopelessly in love with Aria. Unfortunately, Aria does not feel the same way. Aria's sisters rise up and defend her and in the process humiliate Rann. This draws the attention of the God Herrukal, who eventually disperses the Nulefi bodies. They cannot be destroyed and exists in essence in Myr.
The humans of Myr believe the swarm to be the creation of the god Oshi but in reality are artful contrivance made by a combination of human magic, chemistry and prayer. While experimenting with the swarm some of the essence of the Nulefi is trapped within the swarm and it evolves and gains the ability to lay eggs. This is pure heresy in the eyes of church and they attempt to destroy all evidence of this.
A young boy witnesses a swarm Dragonfly laying the first egg. On recanting what he has seen, he is displaced half-way round the world and given a new name, Vivreki. His memory erased, he is hidden away from those who would want to hurt him. Years later, with the original egg never found and the priests of Herrukal fearing the return of the Nulefi, a Bakkujasi swarm rider and a rather nasty big head priest, Cion, are sent to bring Viveki back. Viverki evades capture and has his own agenda. Being able to hear the Nulefi, he goes to find a new egg. Bakkujasi is also sent on the quest to find the new egg. During his quest, Viveki meets various characters along the way until we reach the climatic point of the two parties meeting up at the end of the book.
What I did like about this book was the lush and detailed settings and characters. For a relatively short book, the characters are well-established and the set pieces are not always what you expect. The characters have really depth and you can perceive and believe their motivation and drive. They are truly multi-faceted and better for it. Miller's writing is very descriptive and enjoyable. There are many familiar fantasy themes here. Gods meddling in human affairs, long exciting quests, conflict and the like. There are some really functional groups that work really well along with small characters that just embellish and add to the overall.
The story occasionally doesn't seem to quite gel and I'm not sure if that's because this is the first book in the series. As with a lot of fantasy series, it's not until you read further novels that the story becomes whole and complete. The book does benefit from being relatively short (for fantasy) and is better for it especially toward the end which becomes a real page turner.
I would say this is an enjoyable start to the series, and I can only see it getting better. It provides the reader with both familiar and a slightly fresher approach to fantasy.
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