Book Review: The Scroll of Years by Chris Willrich
Series: Book 1 of Gaunt and Bone
Date of Publication: September 24, 2013
The Scroll of Years sees Chris Willrich taking his characters Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone into new territory, in more ways than one. To date, the pair of adventurers have appeared in a handful of short stories (and the first one is actually included in the back of this volume) but now the two of them are starring in their own full-length novel.
A dynamic dual and partners in crime, Gaunt and Bone are also lovers expecting their first child. Caught up in some trouble with Night Auditor assassins at the beginning of this book, the pair flee across the ocean to Qiangguo, a land very much inspired by ancient Imperial China. To protect themselves from enemies and other factions who already have designs on their unborn child, they will need all the help they can get, and allies apparently can come from the most unexpected of places.
There is much to be said about Chris Willrich’s ability to make me feel so connected to his main protagonists, since I have not read the short stories and The Scroll of Years is my first introduction to Gaunt and Bone. Already, the two are in love and starting a family, which offers a very interesting kind of dynamic you usually don’t find when picking up the first book of a series. It’s not often that one gets a chance to read a fantasy novel from the perspective of a couple of parents-to-be, after all.
Quite frankly, it gave me positive feelings towards this book and its main characters right away, especially since the emotional nuances are always so close to surface whenever Gaunt or Bone find themselves in a quandary. On a personal level, Persimmon Gaunt’s experiences as an expectant woman and then a new mother were humorous at times, and tugged at my heartstrings at others. Overall, these characters have a lot of depth and are just written so well.
The world in which the story takes place is also beautifully crafted, achieved without overt info-dumping. I have a great interest in Far East traditions, and to my delight the author has taken some Chinese myths and legends and incorporated them into this story, also creating some of his own at times to add to the richness of Qiangguo. Clearly, a lot of care was taken to blend fantasy, history, and his own research and knowledge, as evidenced by some of the stories and poetry found in this book, and even by simple things like the name given to this land of the Heavenwalls (“Qiang” meaning “Wall”, “Guo” meaning “Nation”).
The writing is also something I feel I have to remark upon, because the prose is definitely not of a typical style. Even so, this makes it no less beautiful or impressive in my eyes. It did take me a lot longer than expected to read this book, but only because Chris Willrich’s style was something I felt really needed to be taken in slowly and savored. Because a certain level of attention is required to do so, this might make The Scroll of Years a difficult book to get into, but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded by many subtle surprises in the writing. For example, I for one was not expecting much humor in this novel, but there were actually quite a few funny moments that came out of nowhere and made me laugh out loud.
All in all, I can safely say I cannot remember the last time I came across a book like this. Highly recommended for readers of fantasy who love a good action-adventure tale, especially those who might be on the lookout for something a bit different with an elegant and subtle touch.