"The Corral Ring" by Thomas Richards
Whenever I am sent a historical fantasy with “Volume 1” in its title, my heart sinks a little. This genre is particularly characterized by long word counts and abrupt, unfulfilling endings. But, in this book’s case, while it certainly does have the former, the latter is thankfully avoided by this tremendously good author. Yes, it is part of a saga, and yes, it is long and wordy, but it is also self-contained in its own right, feeling like more of a chronicle from the series, with three satisfying acts of its own. At the end of the book, Richards goes on to explain in the afterword that it was his intention with this book to introduce the main protagonists without delving too much into the saga which he has planned for them – and a tremendous job he does, too.
While this alternative fantasy history of ancient Britain, brimming with magicians and sorcerers, may not be my favourite, genre-wise, I found myself utterly engaged with Richards’s writing. He is exceptionally eloquent, his narrative, characters and dialogue are infused with humour and loaded with the author’s personality; the sentences he constructs are clever, interesting and witty. Sure, the book is long, but character interaction is the star aspect of the author’s work. It is a book for the intelligent fantasy reader, and Richards shows his maturity over the usual YA author with whom this genre is suddenly so popular. Focusing more on the thoughtfulness and diplomacy of the political arena, rather than the frivolity of the fairy-tale world – even though it does include sprites, elves and gnomes – there is much more Lord of the Rings about this book than Never Ending Story.
It is to the author and the book’s credit that he doesn’t use this instalment to set up Act One of his overall saga, which you get the sense is going to be an epic one, with big commitment required on the part of the reader. The common problem with the increasingly trendy series format is that the opening volume usually takes a long time to build up, manifesting very little of the coming story, then leaving the reader stranded on a clifftop. Whilst this book does build slowly at times, epic is clearly Richards’s style. Furthermore, he does us a huge favour by ending The Corral Ring on a satisfactory note, and whether you plan to stick with the series or not, it is a wonderful taste of what’s to come, whilst entertaining in its own right. My own personal opinion is that if you take a more grown-up approach to your fantasy, and value character interaction and overall quality over action and storyline, this will appeal. But, the real strength in The Corral Ring: the writing itself. An excellent book, which I highly recommend.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: thomas-richards fantasy historical alternative epic