After you read a certain amount of fantasy or science fiction you begin to wonder how many more stories there are still to be told. Sometimes you'll be reading a story and it will begin to sound familiar even though you've never read it before. I'm not saying that authors are deliberately copying other people's work, just that they've ended up telling the same story that someone else had.
It only stands to reason though, how many stories can there be? We used to tell stories as a means of instruction, to teach us how to survive or how to behave. Naturally those stories would change as we changed our manner of living – we didn't need stories that taught us how to hunt when we settled down as farmers, we needed stories that taught us the best way to grow our crops. Along with the Christian creation story, and the stories that have been associated with religious teachings, these have provided the basic blueprints for most of the stories we now tell.
So to find a new way of telling tales that derive from Western culture is nowhere near as easy as you would think. The fact that we can all pretty much identify the same archetypes, X=evil and Y=good, means that we can accept certain concepts in a story without having them explained, but it also gives everything that air of familiarity. So when an author is able to accomplish what Tom Lloyd has done with the first book of his The Twilight Reign sequence, The Stormcaller and create a world where the reader has little or nothing to hold on to that is familiar, it is quite an accomplishment.
Isak is a white eye, and white eyes are different from all the other people born into the world. They are bigger, stronger, and faster than other people, have a natural affinity for magic, and on occasion are chosen by one of the Gods or Goddesses of the land to be the recipient of gifts that set them even more apart from the humans they share the planet with. If that isn't enough to make people fear, and even hate them, white eyes are also quick to anger and low on patience.
Their anger can be horrible to behold as it can quickly turn into a beserker rage that will see them attack any and all who they perceive as being in their way – in other words anyone in the nearby vicinity. Isak is no exception to this and has only been kept in check in his childhood by a former mercenary who guards the caravan of wagons he and his father travel with. Isak's father hates him because as a white eye he killed his mother while being born; they are just big for a normal woman to birth. Ironically white eyes can only be born of a non-white eyed women, so they all sacrifice their mothers in order to be born.
But even for a white eye it seems Isak is special, for when barely sixteen he discovers that he is the chosen heir of one of the most powerful rulers in the land. If that isn't hard enough to deal with for somebody who has been raised as a peasant, it seems one of the Gods has special plans in mind for him. The gifts that the God of Storms brings for him are the armour and sword of a great and powerful king who was the last single ruler of the land. According to prophesy, whoever next dons that armour and bears that sword will be the saviour and destined for greatness.
What the Gods want and what humans want of course can be two entirely different things, and various people have various ideas on just who should be wearing that armour and carrying that sword. Not only humans want to have their say in the matter either. Other races who haven't been seen or heard from in a long time start making their presence felt; vampires have started to be seen again andt even more disturbing is the fact that the elves are massing on the borders.
The former king whose armour Isak has been given, just happened to be an elf, and they want it back. Unlike most other fantasy stories where the elves are founts of wisdom and goodness etc. etc., these guys are nasty, and would like nothing better than to exterminate a few thousand humans. So they and their troll friends take to the battle field in an attempt to win back the armour. Yet bad as these troubles all seem, they are merely the disturbance on the surface of the water, and underneath it all some deep and disturbing troubles lurk that no one can quite fathom or see yet.
As in all first books of a series a lot of time is spent introducing the various characters, and plot lines that we will be following throughout the series. Initially I found it hard to keep track, as there is a wealth of information to be absorbed, and for a while it was a distraction. While as the story progresses Tom Lloyd takes some steps to lesson the confusion, I realized that in order for us to properly understand Isak we needed to share in his confusion at the events going on around him, so he has left us deliberately in the dark.
It's important for the reader to remember that in spite of his formidable power and abilities, Isak is still only a young man, not even twenty by the end of the first book. Unlike the majority of the people he now consorts with he didn't grow up among the elite of the world and has little or no understanding of the forces that are being set in motion by his presence and his wearing the armour of the former king. Seeing the world through Isak's eyes, and not having much more of an understanding of what's going on than he does, helps us realize the enormity of the task that he is facing.
Who can he trust and what should he do? We really have no more idea than he does, as Lloyd is holding most of his cards close to his chest. While we see some of the plotting that is going on in the world around him, we can't be sure how it's going to end up affecting him. Tom Lloyd has done a masterful job of whetting our interest for the future of the series without giving anything away as to the future.
Lloyd's characterizations are wonderful especially the way he manages to make Isak appear both powerful and insecure simultaneously. He comes across like a typical teenager in some ways, only of course he has the power to destroy just about everybody he meets including himself if he's not careful. While some of the characters might initially appear to by a "type" we've seen before, he is able to give them all twists that take them into territory that makes them different from any characters we've met in other series.
Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd is the first book of his Twilight Reign, and if it is any indication, this series promises to be like no other series I've read before. It's nice to know that there is still plenty new under the sun. Stormcaller is published by Gollancz Fantsy and distributed in Canada by McArthur & Company.