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Wayfarer's Dawn

by Nate Llerandi

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Wayfarer's Dawn
Wayfarer's Dawn, the first book in Nate Llerandi's Cataclysm Saga (written with Jim Webb), hews closely to notions of fantasy writing more than half a century old and, like most such writing, owes a tremendous debt to The Lord of the Rings. At least as far back as J. R. R. Tolkien's trilogy, fantasy novels have served as laments for bygone eras. Tolkien, particularly, turned away from modernity following his experiences in World War I; his novels of Middle Earth are often read as a lament for the lost English countryside of the pre-motorcar era.

Some critics, including China Mieville, David Brin, and Michael Moorcock therefore accuse Tolkien and his followers of reactionary politics. In the past three decades, writers including Ursula K. Le Guin and Samuel Delany have developed coherent-and thrilling-fantasy worlds that served as utopias, models of social orders and ways of life alien to us but no less plausible than The Lord of the Rings.
Wayfarer's Dawn abounds with the characters one would expect to find in such a book: stout-hearted peasants; noble warrior princes; and corrupt, bookish wizards. It also contains stereotypes that, for better or worse, our era generally considers noxious, and which seem to support the accusation of extreme conservatism leveled against the most traditional works in the fantasy genre: a sadistic, foppish, explicitly homosexual villain; a despised but clever half-breed; entire races of sentient but evil creatures; and a near-total absence of active female characters. (The only women who appear in Wayfarer's Dawn are healers, innkeepers, and princesses glimpsed from a distance.) Even the names of characters sound Tolkienesque: Blagoth, Baelashar, Aaverak, Antrion.

The liberal critique of the fantasy genre as reactionary generally paints these novels as intended to comfort rather than challenge, as intended to buttress existing social orders and dynamics rather than overthrow them. Despite the dramatic journey of the novel's protagonists, noble but betrayed Prince Llyr and amnesiac Baelashar, even these heroes are not architects of their own fates but are instead driven by forces beyond their reckoning.
Because Llyr and Baelashar generally have their important decisions made for them, their characters remain fundamentally static: no benchmark exists by which change in their personalities or intentions may be measured.

Perhaps due to the characters' inability to alter their trajectories, the narrative moves forward through a series of progressive revelations. This is most explicit in the back-stories of Llyr and Baelashar, both of whom suffer from some amnesia; recovering their respective memories ends up as critical to both the narrative and to the characters' sense of themselves. Some of the revelations come as no particular surprise, except to the characters, which robs the story of some momentum. People satisfied with the storytelling of contemporary Hollywood blockbusters will not consider this lack of a story arc an issue. Other readers may simply wait for the forthcoming novels in the Cataclysm Saga, and hope that the straight-line trajectory of this book is due to the fact that it merely sets up the other novels.
This movement-through-revelation structure seems influenced not only by summer movies, but also by role-playing games, such as the venerable Dungeons and Dragons, itself firmly grounded in Tolkien's fantasy world. Wayfarer's Dawn owes another debt to Dungeons and Dragons, and other role-playing games: the religious and magical systems are carefully considered, highly detailed, and not mere imitations of other sources. Llerandi has fully imagined this world, and delighted in the development of its magical and religious systems.

For all that imagination, the novel's world is in some ways quite modern: widespread literacy; a complex and diversified economy for both goods and services; and a surprising abundance of food all seem to be present. Of course, this is a fantasy world, and need not hew closely to the historical norms of our world. Moreover, the similarities between Llyr and Baelashar's world and our own enable Wayfarer's Dawn to express thoroughly modern concerns and anxieties, and to explore these.
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