Well this is just mean; what I’m about to do is highly unfair, taunting, and in some circles might even be considered legitimate cause for disembowelment. I’m going to offer you a tantalizing glimpse at a book that won’t be available to be purchased until November of 2006 (for those of you in Great Britain it will be released on August 17, 2006).
Two days ago the unbound proofs of Lessek’s Key, book two of The Eldarn Sequence by Robert Scott and the late Jay Gordon, showed up at my door. (Jay Gordon died in November of 2005 from Lou Ghering’s Disease after he and his son-in-law Robert had completed work on most of what will be the trilogy known as The Eldarn Sequence. Jay had always wanted to write a fantasy series and when he was diagnosed he and Robert began work on the project. As Jay’s physical health failed Robert took over more of the manual labour, but it is still Jay’s inspiration and ideas that remain the core of these books. Jay lived to see the first book The Hickory Staff published and knowing that the entire series would see the light of day)
Last fall I was lucky enough to stumble across book one of the sequence, The Hickory Staff. As everyone who has become ensnared in the adventures of Steven Taylor, Mark Jenkins, and Hannah Sorenson of Colorado — who fell through a hole in the universe to end up in Eldarn — knows, it is the work of imaginative and gifted storytellers.
In the first book they breathed new life into the old “stranger in a strange land” scenario with the ingenuity of their plot development and the believability of their characters. Taking an old idea and making it fresh again can require just as much creativity as coming up with something brand new. A major difference was that as much attention was paid to the characters of the “strange land” as those from back home. Our heroes remain as a focal point, but are in a world populated by real people whose lives are every bit as important.
Equally refreshing was the lack of advantage the people from our world had despite being from a more technologically advanced world. Far too often these types of stories become the stranger arrives just in time to use his superior knowledge to save the brave but backward people from their evil overlord. While the latter does exist in this world, evil personified has taken over the world; it’s Steven, Mark, and later Hannah who all need to be rescued by the people they meet.
At one time Eldarn was five separate kingdoms, four of which were ruled by members of an extended family and the fifth by a collective of wizards known as the Larion Senate. It was through the latter that evil came into the world, when one of their number, Nerek, went too far in his search for power and opened himself up for possession in exchange.
After wiping out all but two of his colleagues he proceeded to eliminate everyone with any legitimate claim to a throne anywhere in Eldarn (he believed), save for the one he possessed, thus always preserving the illusion of proper succession. Once his control was complete, he took the source of his power, an inconsequential-looking piece of rock called Lessek’s Key. It controlled the spell table built by Lessek, founder of the Senate, and one of two portals for crossing the boundaries between worlds, to the Colorado of the 1800s, where he secreted them in a safety deposit. This was at the very bank that Steven Taylor would work at in the 21st century.
In Lessek’s Key we pick up the action where we left off at the end of The Hickory Staff. Stephen has headed back to Colorado to retrieve the portal and key, which had been left in his and Mark’s apartment. Mark and the rest of their companions, Garec and Gilmour (one of the surviving Larion Senators), attempt to recover from their fight with Nerek and place themselves in position to open the second portal to allow Steven a point of return. (To ensure you end up where you want to, both portals have to be open, otherwise you end up in a random spot, which is how Hannah landed in a separate part of the world from Steven and Mark)
For her part, Hannah, through Hoyt and Churn, who rescued her in book one, had managed to meet up with the other survivor of Nerek’s destruction of the Larion Senate, Kantu. (Something to keep in mind, there are no coincidences in Eldarn.) Kantu has agreed to try to help Hannah get back to Colorado, but in order to do so he thinks they have to break into Nerek’s palace to retrieve the one portal remaining on Eldarn.
While the two groups of comrades are pursuing their goals, Brexan, the former soldier in Nerek’s army, is on her own with only thoughts of vengeance to comfort and keep her going. With Versan dead and her heart broken, killing the man responsible for his death, is all she can focus on. Once she establishes his whereabouts the hunt is on.
It’s hard enough for an author to split the focus of a book into two parts, let alone three, but to attempt four major ones, as well as some splinters off of Brexan’s adventures, for the first third of the book, as is the case in Lessek’s Key is apparent literary suicide. How can they expect us to keep track of what’s going on, and who’s doing what?
By making each part so memorable that you can’t forget it, even if you try, is a good starting place. Not once did I even have to pause to remind myself of who was who, and what had been happening to them when I last saw them, let alone flip pages back to where they had been seen last. It wasn’t even a matter of ending every chapter with a cliff-hanger either, although there were those as well, it’s the fact that the authors have an uncanny ability to be make scenes distinct and memorable enough that they linger long after you’ve done reading them.
Whenever I laid the book down, which was with great reluctance and infrequently, I found myself dwelling on the circumstances that I had last seen the characters in. There was always one strong note generated by at least one of the characters depicted in a scene that would stick with me and allowed for instant recall when their story continued.
The real secret of course is great character development. What the authors had started to build in The Hickory Staff is elaborated and expanded on in Lessek’s Key. Events change them, circumstances cause them to grow in ways they didn’t think possible, and fears are faced and conquered. Convictions are tested and as in reality are found wanting, forcing the forging of new ones that are stronger for their annealing by the fire of coming to terms with oneself.
It seems in this book that each character has a personal journey they must undergo while completing the physical one towards what they hope is their ultimate destination. Watching them struggle with the extraordinary circumstances that they find themselves in and dealing with the effect events have on their personalities and behaviour, makes them one of the most realistic groups of characters I have read about in ages.
Of course characters need things to do, and these people have plenty, considering the amount of territory they have to cover. Of course there are also any number of left hooks and plot twists that the authors include to keep both the reader and the characters honest. Nothing and no one is sacred and it is a war where people die and get injured, so you have to be prepared for anything.
There have been so many times when I’ve been reading a trilogy and been sorely disappointed by the second book. It’s as if the author was just in a hurry to get through it so that he could finish and get on with the conclusion. Lessek’s Key the second instalment in Robert Scott and Jay Gordon’s Eldarn Sequence doesn’t suffer from any sophomore jinx.
They have taken a fine introductory book, The Hickory Staff and expanded on what they started, making the sequel equal, if not better, then its predecessor. Lessek’s Key is not due for release in North America until November 2006. That gives you plenty of time to read The Hickory Staff if you haven’t already, so you don’t miss out on anything. (For readers in Great Britain it will be released on August 17 this year.)
These are two well-written, exciting, and intelligent books with only one problem, they end, but at least there is still book three to look forward to.