1 out of 4 stars
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Donald V. Parker’s Walls of Estoria epitomises the traditional fantasy novel. A hefty introduction launches the narrative and brings forth the majority of the necessary world-building details, establishing the salient historical information and other basic principles of Parker’s universe, the quest on which the main characters embark is not only long and arduous, it is also fraught with peril, and whether or not their intended purpose is realised, whatever they achieve will have extremely far-reaching and undeniable consequences. The novel has breathtakingly ambitious scope, and with a recognisable structure and an eclectic mix of increasingly eccentric characters, Walls of Estoria sits well within the boundaries of its chosen genre.
The protagonists of Walls of Estoria emerge from very different backgrounds, brought together by a set of increasingly mysterious powers and aided by a couple of decidedly vague ‘Guardians,’ to form a determined group dedicated to combatting the rising forces of evil. Their enemies appear to hold all the cards, vastly outnumbering the brave protagonists in every conceivable fashion, but their bravery is not to be underestimated, even as anything and everything they love is thrown into question, from the friendships lending their newly-formed group fragile cohesion, to the strong bonds of family. The heroes are forced to defend their cause, their purpose, and their principles against increasingly difficult odds, belaboured and harassed by forces beyond number. Failure is not an option, for the survival of the world is at stake.
There are a number of key themes in the novel, from the aforementioned concepts of friendship, family and loyalty, to heroism and chivalry, and the protagonists are constantly obliged to make difficult moral decisions, weighing up their principles against the assumed consequences of what they are about to attempt. Thus, there are many instances of clear moral uncertainty, questions posed that have no answer, and each of the main characters endures several turning-point situations in which their core beliefs are well and truly challenged. The reader is thus offered clear passage into the logic and motivations by which the characters act, a clear insight into who they are as people, and how, over the course of the narrative, they go on to develop.
However, this is rarely used to aid character development, as only on a couple of rare occasions do any of the protagonists show any indication that they have learnt from their previous mistakes, or that their stance on a particular topic might have been subject to change. This is a shame, as it arguably renders the moral uncertainty brought into play fundamentally irrelevant to the course of the novel, and it manifests in other aspects, too, such as the glossing over of how the protagonist’s strange abilities function, where it was they manifested from, and how it is they learn to properly understand and use them. A couple of the main characters complete various ‘tests,’ but their capabilities seem in the main to be innate, and little technical information is offered as to how or why they are successful. Parker constantly reverts to describing magical or unusual events simply as ‘mystical,’ without ever expanding on what such a term might mean in the world of Walls of Estoria.
A further issue is the depiction of women, as although Parker’s narrative contained many and varied female characters, it seemed increasingly clear that the only reason that two of Parker’s protagonists were in fact female was to pair them off neatly with the two male protagonists. Their characterisation is dubious at best, they have little in the way of personality, and, arguably, they could have been written as men without a great deal of difficulty. Despite the omnipresent danger, the four protagonists develop a simultaneous interest in one another, clumsily portrayed in a series of bizarrely farcical scenes that culminate inevitably in shirtless men and blushing women, and that are of a style entirely unlike the rest of the novel.
I found Parker’s writing in general to be difficult to follow, with an exceedingly large number of grammatical and spelling errors to contend with, inconsistent formatting, and a strangely clunky narrative worsened significantly by misused descriptive terms and painfully illogical pacing. With the additional aforementioned lack of detail, Walls of Estoria lacks sophistication and surety, and I found it genuinely difficult to connect with the plot while I remained so bogged down in the basics.
Ultimately, it is for those wider issues – lack of character development, absence of any real detail, gaping world-building holes, and the uncomfortable depiction of women – that I did not enjoy reading Walls of Estoria. The premise was strong, and the ambition admirable, but it did not live up to my expectations. Parker’s attempt to establish a cohesive fantasy universe in which his disparate protagonists might believably exist was dubious at best, and while I might otherwise have enjoyed the narrative, I was disappointed by this failure to follow through on what is typically promised and delivered by fantasy novels in general.
I rate this book 1 out of 4 stars because it is poorly written, difficult to follow, and plagued by a colossal number of errors. It lacks detail, suggests at only a brief attempt at world building, indulges in increasingly labyrinthine attempts at describing the history of the depicted universe, and has little to recommend it in general. Fans of traditional fantasy novels might be interested, but I would argue that the number of errors and general poor quality of the writing would be a significant deterrent.
Walls of Estoria
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