Archive for the ‘Jonathan Renshaw’ Category

I will own I chose this book mostly because it was LONG (30 hours!) and not odiously stupid or ill written. Which is to say, not brilliant, not the book you press on your family and friends insisting they will LOVE it—but, good enough. It is a story of a boy growing up, dealing with his abusive father, becoming a man, in a fantasy world which—as always—is more or less medieval, with armor and cross bows and castles and all. Mal Peet’s excellent quote comes to mind: “The world–“Realm” is the proper term–of High Fantasy is sort of medieval. Well, pre-industrial, anyway. Something like Devon, I imagine. Vaguely socialist, in an idyllic, farmerish sort of a way”. Dawn of Wonder sticks to the script, with however the interesting addition of monstrous creatures, mysteriously engendered by eerie storms. And our lad, Aedan, literally hears the thunder speak his name. It is God speaking, whom they caArcheryll ‘the Ancient’—bringing to mind the Ancient of Days, that withered husk in Pullman’s Dark Materials books, who is set free by Lyra and Will. In Dawn of Wonder, the Ancient is no withered husk, but a huge power that can shake the earth. In a GOOD way, I hasten to add.

Renshaw can tell a story, and he keeps his readers engaged: the first task a writer must accomplish. There is a quest binding the stories together: the vicious slavers of Lekrau capture Kalry, Aedan’s dear companion, and he swears to avenge her—which means that he must go to Hero school to acquire all the skills needed for such an endeavour. Finding and entering such a school, and succeeding in overcoming his weaknesses, finding friends—this takes us through Book 1. Book 2 will take us to Lekrau, I expect. And I look forward to listening to it.

The SECOND task a writer must accomplish—for me, at least—is establishing depth and resonance to his writing. This quality, placing the book into a category which I think of as adult, requires education and experience—years of both. Renshaw writes in a workmanlike way, and tells his story clearly, describes his characters, gives them understandable motives. But his prose has the voice of a teenager—a clever and sensitive teenager, but, a teenager.
Here is Renshaw describing Aedan’s entrance into the city:

“Nobles glided past in varnished carriages drawn by horses that were groomed to dazzling perfection, while filthy ragged children shouted and ran abreast, holding out their hands until the driver’s whip chased them off. A farmer in a dirty woolen tunic trundled along, pushing a cart of turnips and cabbages and singing a light ditty. Then he flung the handles down and thrust his arms in the air to call down pestilence after being splashed by the chaise of a wealthy silk merchant.”

I searched at random for a city description in Checkmate, the Dorothy Dunnett book I just finished. Here is one, a holy procession in Paris:

“Because of the weight of the shrine, they traveled slowly. The priests sang and the censer-smells lingered. There on the left was the rue des Marmousets, and the cleared space of the house of the pâtissier, who had made pies from the flesh of those barbered to death by his neighbor. Next door, imagine, to Notre-Dame, rising four-square, sprigged and buttoned above her, with its band of crowned and gaily conversing stone monarchs.”

It’s not fair, I know, to compare anyone with Dorothy Dunnett. But there it is; the details—the echoes of Sweeney Todd, the gaily conversing stone monarchs!—are so much more arresting than the varnished carriages, the dirty woolen tunic, and so forth.
However, as I said, a good story, and sometimes that will do very well.


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