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This River Awakens (Book 1 of The Malazan Book Of The Fallen) by Steven Erikson

01/04/2012. Contributed by Andy Whitaker

Buy This River Awakens (Book 1 of The Malazan Book Of The Fallen) in the USA - or Buy This River Awakens (Book 1 of The Malazan Book Of The Fallen) in the UK

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pub: Bantam Press. 427 page hardback. Price: GBP18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-593-06777-2.

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Steven Erikson is best known for the popular 'The Malazan Book Of The Fallen' series of novels. These tales of heroic fantasy were very well received and have been critically acclaimed. ‘The River Awakens’ was Erikson’s debut novel published in 1998 and has nothing to do with the ‘Malazan’ books. It was originally published under the name of Steve Lundin while this edition has been revised by Erikson and re-published in 2012 under his own name.

The text on the back of the dust jacket starts, ‘What I look on now, after all these years, is a place of myth. For this was a place that told us that there was more than just one world.’ This set my expectations of a fantasy novel although the text does end with ‘The year was 1971…’

Rather than being a fantasy novel, this is a coming of age story about a twelve year-old boy who moves from the city in to a small town. While there’s an old man who speaks to the weather and has once visited a witch, a dead giant who turns out to be dead but not a giant, a secret room in the house and some dysfunctional neighbours, there’s no unicorns, prophecies or dragons. It is just a tale of normal everyday life in the 1970s with a few notable events thrown in.

I should point out that I’m not a fan of whimsical descriptions. Unfortunately, they are used extensively in the first part of the book and crop up with annoying regularity through the rest of it. They are especially prevalent when the central character is describing his own recollections of events as he remembered them. I’m saying ‘central character’ here, as most of the narrative is from a twelve year-old boy’s perspective. You’re not explicitly told but can deduce that the boy’s first name is Owen. You don’t learn his full name until page 93 but don't worry there's another 333 pages to go yet.

Owen meets up with three other boys of about his age and the story concerns his relationship with them, his neighbours and an old watchman at the local yacht club. I should also mention his girl-friend who is the only child of the dysfunctional family. It is set over about a year and describes the various things Owen, his friends and his neighbours get up to.

I had a hard time relating to the boys’ characters in the story. This came as a surprise as I remember 1971 when I would have been about the same age as these boys. The very uneasy relationship between the four boys who are described as friends struck me as odd. It is difficult to see how they could sustain their companionship over any length of time. The writing style did not help neither. The book is written as though the author desperately wants it to be a fantasy novel but just can’t quite do it. For example, there are instances where an old man believes his field has come alive and one of the mothers believes the crows are talking to her. It also jumps from a first person perspective, mostly Owen’s, to third person perspective quite a lot.

There are lots of hints at deeper hidden meanings. However, it ends up being a tale of a year in the life of a twelve year-old boy with a rather whimsical ending. It’s not really an ending but a summing up of all the sage like knowledge sprinkled through the book. I would place a bet that if you like poetry you will like this book. Not because there is any poetry in the book but because of the whimsical descriptions and obscure insights into the meaning of the world, people and everything. I don't like poetry.

Andy Whitaker

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