When I read the blurb for the first book of The Saga of Lyn, I thought I knew what to expect. I’d seen fantasy novels claim to incorporate science fiction elements before. We’ve all read the story of a rustic worker who becomes a warrior. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that The Reawaking basically weaponizes complacency. Again and again, I fell for the idea that I “knew” this character or how this plot line would play out. And again and again, I found that it was just another trap the book had laid to assure me that I really did know nothing and to keep me turning pages as fast as possible.
I want to get my one negative criticism out of the way at the start both so that I can gush freely and because it occurs early in the story and could give some readers the wrong idea of the book. Like any first book of any new fantasy series, The Reawakening suffers a bit from the exposition necessary to flesh out the world and characters. Rather than trying to shoehorn it in along the way, Carter simply takes the first pages to tell us who and what we need to know through narration. I personally expect this whenever I encounter a new fantasy setting and prefer the direct approach Carter uses. However, I know there are readers who are bothered by excessive narration, and I want to encourage them to keep going. The action and dialog take over very quickly.
The first thing about The Reawakening that grabbed my attention was the nature of both the narration and the dialog. Just sentences in, I became giddy as I realized that Carter had written his book with a traditional high fantasy wording and sentence structure. Like any kind of dialect or assumed voice, keeping the writing consistent is tricky when using an older tone. Tricky and mostly thankless. If the author stumbles, people immediately “hear” the difference. If he succeeds, the story flows so well that the reader never even notices. Since the mechanics of the book are something I deliberately pay attention to when I read to review, I caught it – but only on the second reading. And what really surprised me was how much thought had been put into the dialog. Early on the nobility and the commoner’s speech is so clearly delineated that later a character only has to start talking and no other description of his social standing is necessary.
Their speech is not the only aspect of the characters that shows both careful thought and crafting. As a reader of fantasy, I love a book that can leave behind the heritage of the genre and blaze a new trail. I’m also deeply fond of the novel that can embrace the tropes of its predecessors and breathe new life into them with unique touches and twists. The Reawakening falls somewhere between the two. Like I said before, we all know the story of the innkeeper turned swordsman. Our protagonist, Tegain, is probably only out clichéd by his friend Karl, who was a gifted soldier and is now the town peddler. But there is a reason we see these characters over and over in tales. They are more archetypes than stereotypes, and our recognition of them only enhances the story.
For this book in particular, the nature of the main cast masterfully lays the groundwork for what makes this fantasy truly unique: the science fiction. It’s not uncommon for the two genres to mix a little. A fantasy might have a few touches of elements more common to science fiction and vice versa. But in The Reawakening, it feels more like a science fiction story being played out on a fantasy stage. The deeply traditional roots of the setting makes the contrast even more stark. And I’m sure that many an academic argument can be fought over who the main character really is and which genre they really belong in. I don’t want to give away too much here of the plot, but in the best of ways, I’ve never read anything like this.
I’ve become quite cynical when it comes to a book’s marketing claims. Nothing has been “the next Lord of the Rings,” and few books live up to the claim to “change how you see the genre forever.” The Reawakening claimed neither of those things but did make some significant promises. It claimed to be both fantasy and science fiction, and it truly is. It asked me to believe it was more than just another world with mages in towers and tavern keepers turning into heroes. And it delivered magnificently.