Acacia: The War with the MeinDavid Anthony Durham

Pages: 592
Publisher: Doubleday
Release Date: June 12, 2007
ISBN-10: 0385506066
ISBN-13: 978-0385506069

Several posts ago I wrote a review for Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, a book that I was very confident would be the fantasy debut of the year… now, I’m not so sure!

David Anthony Durham, an acclaimed Historical Fiction writer, but a newbie to the fantasy genre, has recently stormed into the genre with a book, Acacia: The War with the Mein, a novel that is as different from Rothfuss’ debut as night is from day. Where Rothfuss’ novel was a small, contained and intense look at the life of one character’s experiences, Acacia: The War with the Mein is a sprawling epic recounting the struggles of numerous characters and the empire in which they live.

For all these differences in scope, Durham’s novel is equally as compelling and evocative as Rothfuss’ debut. Acacia: The War with the Mein is split into three separate “Books” (essentially Part 1, 2, and 3), breaking the novel into well defined first, second and third acts.

Durham’s experience in the Historical Fiction genre really shows in his first fantasy novel, in fact throughout the majority of the book, the only thing that really sets Acacia: The War with the Mein into the Fantasy genre is that it is set in a fictional world. This is very evident in the first act of the book, the novel opens in a world that could be our own, with characters that feel as real and flawed as anyone we know, and events that unfold slowly but surely. Somehow though, despite all this, along with assassinations, armies, rumblings of dead ancestors cursed to a eternity in a living purgatory, the opening act of Acacia: The War with the Mein manages to feel a little slow and plodding.

But, then the second act begins and it’s almost as though a new author took over. Several years pass between the first and second act and when we again meet up with the Akaran children (the characters around which the book revolves) we find that they have grown to adulthood and all of the sudden the young, naive children from the first act have matured into interesting, diverse and compelling adults, each facing the changing world in their own ways. Durham does an incredible job of making each of the fell wholly unique and intriguing, throughout the novel I kept trying to pinpoint exactly which one I enjoyed reading about the most and could never settle on a single character. As the story of the Akaran children progresses we begin to see more and more the elements that make this novel a full fledged fantasy novel: banished sorcerers, terrifying creatures, epic warfare, and more.

The biggest strength of the novel, though, is Durham’s ability to show us both sides of the battle. As the title implies, the Acacian Empire (the “Good Guys”) is invaded by the Scandinavian-like Meins (the “Bad Guys”) and as the events unfold we watch from the perspectives of not only the Acacians but also through the eyes of the invaders. It is through these perspectives that the depth of the novel really shows. Many time throughout the novel I found myself empathizing equally with the Meins as I did with the Acacians.

Durham has also done a fantastic job creating a world that feels real, gritty and just as contradictory as our own world. This fact is most evident when one considers the Acacian Empire, the “Good Guys” who have been invaded and see their centuries old reign brought to a screeching halt. This is saddening until one stops and realizes that these “Good Guys” are an empire fueled by the trade of human slaves and illicit drugs, at this point you really start to understand some of the issues that are going to be tackled by Durham over the course of the Acacia trilogy.

One aspect of the book that I really appreciated was the fact that, despite it being the first book of a trilogy, it has a self contained story arc that concludes with the end of the book. Unlike many trilogies and series on the market today, I finished Acacia: The War with the Mein with a strong sense of satisfaction. On top of this single book story-arc is another overarching story arc that will be tackled over the course of the entire trilogy. There are several threads left loose by Durham which indicate and hint towards the direction the final two books will take.

While Durham’s prose isn’t the strongest in the industry, his storytelling is a fine mix of Greg Keyes, George R.R. Martin and a little dash of Guy Gavriel Kay and if we don’t see Durham’s name up alongside these other authors several years from now, I will be very surprised and disappointed!

2007 is already looking to be just as a strong a year for debuts as 2006 was and David Anthony Durham’s Acacia: The War with the Mein is right in the running for debut of the year. Do yourself and a favour and give it a chance, just make sure to make it to the second act, where the book really takes off and never looks back!