Book Review: The Unremembered by Peter Orullian
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Series: Book 1 of Vault of Heaven
Publisher: Tor (April 7, 2015)
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
This review is for the “Author’s Definitive Edition” of The Unremembered. What does this verbiage spell for the book, exactly? According to an interview I found, author Peter Orullian made a ton of changes for this re-issue, many of which were not just limited to minor adjustments like adding an excerpt or fixing a typo here and there, though there was certainly some of that involved too. In fact, there are significant differences between this and the original (but Orullian also assures that those who read the latter will be able to transition into the sequel just fine), like about fifteen thousand words added in, but even more cut out. So, unlike a lot of Author’s Editions, this new version is actually substantially shorter than the original. It’s all supposed to make a stronger book – trimming the fat, bolstering what needed to be bolstered, fixing the pace, improving character development, etc.
I’ve not read the original, so I can’t really speak to whether or not the Author’s Definitive Edition met its goals, but finding out all that information did make me curious about this book. It’s so rare that an author gets a chance to do this, and I wanted to see the end result.
The Unremembered opens with a god condemned by the rest of the pantheon for creating a world filled with terrifying creatures, upsetting the divine balance. As punishment, he is sent to live for eternity with his abominations in the Bourne. Thousands of years later, the focus shifts to the perspective of a villager named Tahn who encounters nightmarish creatures around his home and the lands of the Hollows. Mysterious strangers arrive in town, and one of them – an old man named Vendanj – warns Tahn of great danger. A tear between the realms has resulted in the evil things from the Quiet entering the world, putting everything in peril.
Together with his sister Wendra and his friend Sutter, Tahn sets off on a quest with Vendanj and the old man’s other companions, the Sodalist Braethen and the beautiful-but-deadly warrior Mira. Tahn has no idea where this quest will take him, but he is all too aware that the world is depending on him and his group to stop the darkness from swallowing up everything he knows and loves.
The Hero’s Journey immediately comes to mind. The Unremembered is exactly that, pulling in the familiar tropes in the genre for this traditional quest narrative. This makes it a tough book to review. On the one hand, many of the themes can be recognized as the conventional and rehashed ideas from well-known fantasy classics, and though I wouldn’t exactly describe the story as generic, I can’t exactly call it original either. On the other hand though, there’s a certain charm and appeal to reading a book that harkens back to the days of old-school fantasy, almost like slipping on a worn but comfortable and much-loved sweater. As with all books in general, I suspect how you feel about this one will entirely depend on the sort of mood you’re in.
Still, that’s not to say Peter Orullian brings nothing to the genre. I find his world and characters intriguing, and whether or not this has to do with the changes he made in this edition, I liked his writing style and found it flowed very smoothly. His world-building is deep and very detailed, and his characters – while playing a bit to clichés – are people you can relate to. After all, archetypes such as The Hero are popular because they resonate with us. Tahn is likeable in that role, and his companions also play out their respective parts nicely. Orullian fleshes out his characters and gives them individual traits that make them memorable, even if they are present in a derivative capacity.
Is The Unremembered perfect? No, but I still enjoyed reading it. It’s well-paced, probably much improved from the original version is my guess. Some scenes carry a lot of weight, and in these the author does a fantastic job with the atmosphere, highlighting tough choices and the consequences of making them. Sometimes, it can get very poignant and emotional in keeping tensions high and the reader hooked on every word. As well, at a certain point in the book, the story diverges into two different threads, which threw some variation into the mix.
Ultimately, I don’t know if I would recommend this book to everyone, but I imagine there will be fantasy readers who will enjoy it. If you’re looking for something wildly fresh and original, this probably won’t be it. But if you’re feeling nostalgic for some traditional epic fantasy reminiscent of The Wheel of Time or The Lord of the Rings, then it’s quite possible that this could work for you. Personally I thought this was a decent read, and I felt invested enough that I will most likely read the sequel.