New Fantasy from James Vargo,
April 12, 2011
This review is from: Passage of the Acolyte: part one (Volume 1) (Paperback)Vargo's initial volume of his fantasy tale "Passage of the Acolyte" goes a long way on delivering on the new author's rather bold promise to spin a tale reminiscent of Tolkien's Middle Earth. We are immediately introduced to the main character Greynol, a retired cleric who receives a disturbing message from lands far to the south. The message, in the form of a scroll, mysteriously unsealed and literally cursed by blood, calls the elderly Acolyte out of his comfortable situation and into a redemptive quest.
Rather quickly, the reader is then acquainted with a group of young men, friends and kin from the lands of the north of Vargo's millieu, all coming of age and looking for adventure and deeds to prove themselves. A chance encounter eventually leads them to Greynol who is looking for an escort to the south where he can confront his past.
Greynol's companions, seven in number, are from various clans and races (human ), each of which has a particular history which Vargo skillfully reveals in conversations and events during their travels together. It is clear that the author has spent a lot of time and effort into building his world and creating a coherent mythos in which his story is a part. Several very nicely drawn maps are testaments to Vargo's world building endeavors, unfortunately it appears that some have been necessarily cropped to fit the format of the publisher. Vargo's vivid descriptions of the landscape through which the party journeys are evidently the result of his own wilderness wanderings and meditations.
Their journey is not without perils - bandits and ancient temples test the party's mettle. A shadowy assassin keeps the adventurers on their toes and is responsible for a particularly desperate encounter. There is also a mysterious and fiery being dogging them with sinister intentions. Through all of the dangers, Greynol calls on and uses the powers of Fawarra, which "... act through those who empty themselves the most ..."
Near the end of the volume is a wonderfully described fight scene which is resolved by a maneuver which will always stick in my mind and finishes off Part One of Vargo's tale with the party playing the role of local heros.
Vargo does indeed manage to evoke feelings of Tolkien, I think in a large measure due to his characterizations (rather than relying on typical fantasy races such as elves and dwarves, he embeds his human characters with traits and histories which accomplish the same results) and interwoven backstory (though at time a bit too heavy) to his world.
I've always had a particular fondness for the passage in "The Hobbit" where Gandalf calls to Bilbo to ".. just bring out the cold chicken and pickles!" Vargo does not neglect the fact that adventurers need to eat, and though he sometimes describes their meals in a perfunctory manner, more often than not his depictions sent me scurrying to the kitchen to find something which would firmly cement the passage in my memory.
His sparing and judicious use of "magic" makes its appearance all the more satisfying and the Fawarra religion which permeates his world really is a treat. Not since Katherine Kurtz's "Camber of Culdi" have I enjoyed a fantasy novel which had a world spanning religion organically and effectively embedded in the story in this fashion. One small gripe - I can't help but associate the term "acolyte" with a beginner or minor liturgical functionary, which Greynol clearly is not.
I think that Mr. Vargo does indeed deliver (so far!) what he promised. Onto Part Two ...