I have actually been interested in reading Peter Orullian’s first novel, The Unremembered, for quite some time now. Why? Well in the realm of fantasy fiction, it is not all that often that you hear people saying that an author is bringing something new to the genre. Yes of course their stories and their voice is new, but that is usually the extent of it. However when I started to hear rumblings like, “Orullian is doing things in fantasy that we haven’t seen before...” I took notice.
What could this Orullian guy be doing that hasn’t been done before? Well I think there are a few things that have set him apart, at least in my eyes. The first is in his world building. Now this is only the first book in the Vault of Heaven series, but my initial impression is that the world building is not on par with that of Sanderson or Erikson in terms of sheer scope (depth and vastness), but it gains merit in uniqueness. The concept of magic seems to be mostly broken into two categories as far as I can tell, one is the Rendering of the Will, but the second is the magic that lies within sound and resonance. The concept is that certain gifted individuals can unleash magic through song. After just one book, we only get a small exposure into that magic, but it is pretty interesting and unique enough to stand out.
Another aspect of the world building that is really unique is more or less the plot. So what you have is a world where the creators gave life to a race of creatures that are more powerful than everyone else. Then the creators decided to abandon the world, but before leaving they decided to place a magical veil between the greater race and the lesser races. The key is that the veil can only be sustained through the use of magic, in the form of songs. The world is steeped in the rich history necessary to help the reader understand the veil, and the imminent danger posed when the veil begins to fail.
Peter Orullian also has a unique way of inviting the reader to experience his world through the senses, especially the senses that relate to sound, like hearing and touch. You don’t just know that music plays, you get to experience the thrum of the instrument’s strings and the fevered pitch of an angry song. It’s not that other authors don’t do this well, it’s just that Orullian does it better than most. The characters don’t just hear an approaching threat, they experience it—and as a reader, so do you.
In terms of themes, the book doesn’t shy away from it. The handful of themes that the book tends to focus on are rather direct, which is nice. The book deals with things like memories, intentions, innocence, identity, atonement, and forgiveness, but to me the single largest has to be about the parent child bond and the lack thereof. Orullian isn’t afraid to deal with ugly aspects where children are beaten, neglected, killed, or outright abandoned. It is a very touchy subject that would scare a lot of readers away—BUT IT SHOULDN’T. It isn’t graphic and more importantly Mr. Orullian handles this with such a fatherly tenderness, that his heart shines through even in the darkest parts.
Now I did enjoy the book, but here are a few of the things that I didn’t love.
Despite being a fan of Brandon Sanderson and Steven Erikson, truly grandiose world builders whose stories plod along very slowly, I found myself getting a bit anxious with this book. Don’t get me wrong, the characters do become well formed, and the story is interesting, but it was a slow “read” (audiobook) for me. This book took me longer than usual to finish, and I think it was due to the pacing. The odd thing about it, is there is actually quite a few interesting things that happen to our cast of characters along the way, but honestly there were times where I almost lost sight of all the adventure because of the dialogue. It’s not that the dialogue wasn’t bad, and at times I found that it had great substance and depth that merited pondering. But sometimes you just want the guy to shoot the damn arrow, amirite? I am not suggesting that the dialogue isn’t important, but it just felt like there were large sections that got bogged down with nothing but talking.
Another issue, albeit minor, was that in my humble opinion the characters where developed rather slowly in some cases. I do feel that they were well formed, but I know that I was not emotionally attached to any characters until I was roughly 3/4s of the way through the book. I think this may partially be that the author got better at characterization by the time he got further into the book. For example, I felt Orullian did a better job creating distinct characters like Helena, Roland, and Bellamay, despite spending much less time with them.
Another thing that you’ll find quite frequently in The Unremembered is Orullian’s ability turn a phrase. In his writing, he has created a nifty little collection of idioms and phrases that are unique to the world he has created. This is not uncommon in fantasy, and sometimes the turn of the phrase comes off as quite clever, however in some instances I found it to be a bit clunky or disruptive. It doesn’t happen that often, and honestly I could be in the minority here, but this is one tiny instance where I felt less is more.
Overall, I must say that I enjoyed The Unremembered a great deal. It was unique in many ways and yet it is also a story with substance. Though my TBR pile is great, I wasted no time adding the next book, Trial of Intentions, to the queue.