“’He comes not for what you need, but for what you do not want,’ said the monk. ‘He is the unremembered man. He is the shadow, not the shadow-caster. He is the shadow of forgotten things, of neglect and of apathy and of lost cities. He is the end of all stories. He was the end of mine.’”
Every now and then I stumble across an indie book that sweeps me off my feet. S. A. Hunt’s first novel, The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree, did just that.
I’ll throw out the biggest surprise for me: The writing flows so beautifully. It’s talent, simply put. The similes were great. Narrated by a soldier being thrust back into the comfy world of home, Hunt presents us with a haunting, tense voice that is simplistic in its writing when need be, but nicely melds into soothing verbosity when the time arises. Very few authors have this ability. Mark Lawrence immediately springs to mind, but the two “voices” are vastly different.
“The sun hung low over the eastern horizon, mounted on a wall painted in a thousand shades of red. Scrims of purple and orange lay shredded across the sky, dusted with the night’s dying stars. The sounds of the waking city drifted to us from the maze unfurling down the mountain like a bride’s train.”
What is not is their ability to create depth from seemingly miniscule details. Lawrence achieved this with the staples of a post-apocalyptic world. Hunt manages this monumental task with the help of excerpts from a fictitious book series, fantasy novels that the narrator’s father worked on. And I do not exaggerate when I say that these tidbits filled me with more nostalgia than I have ever felt in a book. It is merely the idea of a cult around Epic Fantasy and the realization that the world is true that sent me toward loving it. I truly don’t know how better to explain it; it was remarkable, and I loved every second of reading about creatures in the “books” becoming real.
And while the written word was fine, the dialogue was a tad clunky. Characters could, at times, have a philosophical voice, rather than the rough and tumble of the common Western. But it smoothed itself out the further we dived.
Aside from amazing writing and a depth I’ve been searching for for months, Hunt sure knows how to create mystifying and tense scenes. Running away from a ghost town full of Wilders; nearly getting eaten by a sea serpent; the assault on the dark tower. All were brilliant in tone, action, and sheer breath holding. I cannot applaud Hunt enough. He can write a strange set up.
“FORGOTTEN AND ALONE. You try so hard to be the strong one, boy…You push the world away, neglecting your friends and loved ones, you self-serving, condescending piece of shit, and you break yourself trying to prove you’re better than what you think your family, your friends see in you. You think you’re a ‘lone wolf’, but all you are is a scared little boy trying to himself that since his daddy didn’t need him, nobody needs him.”
However, my big fault with him is his lack of a plot. It tends to lose itself in character interactions and the setting. It can at times feel like nothing is moving forward, that we’re stumbling along, and the climax happened way too early, resulting in a swift twist at the end. But it wasn’t sharp or rewarding. It was a lead into book 2. Not something I enjoyed, to say the least.
This produced a sense of “prequel” that never entices me. It’s like The Fellowship of the Rings in its ability to create a bigger arc with very little happening at the forefront.
Sure, a slow burning character-driven plot isn’t bad, per se, it’s just not exactly my cup of tea. Unless you’re F. Scott Fitzgerald. Then you can pull it off. But Hunt doesn’t have that talent. (Least not yet.) If he does find the story in his sequel, I can assure you we’ll be faced with one astounding book, let alone self-published and edited by non-professionals. Gasp.
So…if you want to jump on the Steampunk train and ride toward the weird sunset, I advise you to pick up The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree, a fabulous and riveting Dark Fantasy tale. I don’t understand how a big name publisher hasn’t picked up this surreal story yet. It may not have a tight plot, but just toss it under “literary” fiction. Fits the requirements to a tee, save the tiny baggage of genre, I mean fantastical, trappings. But those are just details, written oh so well.
“’Hey,’ I said. ‘I smile. When nobody’s looking, I smile a whole lot.’
‘And that’s why you’re creepy.’”