3 out of 4 stars
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Since the publication of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in the mid-1900s, epic fantasy has been a popular source of entertainment and an effective tool for exploring humanity. The genre might have yielded to the likes of The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale recently, but it still holds strong, presenting to its readers such themes as good vs. evil, organized religion vs. morality, and socio-economic and political inequality. Even today these themes are explored in works like The Redemption of Anaìr by Alexander Findlay.
Anaìr Torgayl has been called many things: an alcoholic, a sinner, an artist, a warrior, the Consecrated One. Once upon a time, he would slaughter on the battlefield by day and drown his sorrows in debauchery by night. To some, he is a disgrace. To others, a hero. To most, he is both. But there is one thing that no one would ever think he would be called: Chief Warden, the leader of the troops of Solatus.
Then barbaric forces from the West invade Solatus, killing and raping Solati civilians and troops alike. When an ill-fated campaign to defeat these invaders kills Chief Warden Merris Morgain, Deputy Chief Warden Rhys Garadon's nomination of Anaìr to the position launches the controversial man from disgraced Warden to Solatus's last hope for survival. Yet the road to redemption is never an easy one, and when you're already convinced it's too late, it can be nearly impossible.
Will Anaìr be able to overcome the shadows of his past to save the land and people he loves? Is there something more to the tainted house of Torgayl than meets the eye? And will Solatus survive this unprecedented attack?
As a fantasy reader who has always been captivated by world building, I was taken by The Redemption of Anaìr immediately. From the beginning, readers are launched into Anaìr's world—both the physical setting and the inner world that torments Anaìr—as Findlay vividly describes Anaìr losing himself to his art. Findlay then takes his audience on a trip through an entirely new land with distinct cultural and religious customs, social hierarchies and expectations, and racial tension. We even get a look into how Solati customs clash with those of the invading forces, the Orvinarr, including their views on gender equality and Solatus's female warriors. Findlay knows every inch of this land as well as, if not better than, our own, and his ability to create such a fantastic world down to the last detail seems to be his greatest, though not his only, strength here.
Developing alongside this setting and its intricate societies are well-rounded characters, particularly Anaìr. Anaìr is complicated right from the beginning, a talented artist but also a reluctantly cunning warrior, someone looked down upon for his past behavior but revered for his work on the battlefield and, while not everyone will admit it, his artwork. Everyone around him is just as layered, even if the author couldn't go into their backstories and personalities in as much detail, from worldly warriors to the enigmatic Matriarch. Most importantly, the invaders are not completely one-dimensional, depicted as the more morally corrupt side of the conflict and in league with something evil but not without their human traits. Considering it can be so easy to draw antagonists as completely evil, it's a relief to see both the heroes and the villains through gray-colored glasses.
Findlay creates a complex story where plot, character, and setting are so tightly woven together that they are almost inseparable. There are, of course, a few stragglers that seem unnecessary, but that happens in all novels. However, the close relationship among plot, characters, and the setting means that the book relies heavily on the world building. As I said before, I am a huge fan of that aspect of fantasy and Findlay has great imaginative energy, but in this book, it sometimes leads to info dump. It ended up dragging down the pace of Part I, in some places to the point that it was a chore to read. Everything really picked up in Part II; Part I just would have been better if some of the world building had been spread out or trimmed down.
This book isn’t for everyone. While the battle scenes are heart-pumping and captivating, Findlay focuses more on the socio-politico-cultural constructs and how they inform the plot, so readers who prefer action-packed epic fantasy might be disappointed. If you don’t like swearing, you probably won’t be into Findlay’s novel, either. I don’t find it excessive, but the characters are not shy about using impolite language. There is not any detailed descriptions of sex scenes, although there are scenes following sex that make it clear that sex has just occurred. There are also references to nudity, rape, and the aftermath of rape, so I would not recommend this novel for anyone under eighteen years old (maybe sixteen at youngest) or who is triggered by such depictions.
Overall, I give The Redemption of Anaìr by Alexander Findlay 3 out of 4 stars. It is a throwback to classic epic fantasy with new twists that bring it up to the standards of 21st-century readers. Part I can be hard to get into with its mounds of world building, and the pacing of this section is often bogged down by exposition. I also noted multiple grammatical errors. I have a Bachelor's in English and might be pickier than most readers, but the book still needs to be proofread further. Nevertheless, Findlay has me hooked. Even with everything revealed here, I know that there is more to discover, and I am eager to get to it. I want more of Solatus, its people, their cultures and society, the Orvinarr, and lands yet to be explored. If the ending is any indication, The Redemption of Anaìr is only the beginning.
The Redemption of Anaìr
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