Book Review: Renown of the Raithlin by Robert Ryan

Renown of the Raithlin: Book One of the Raithlindrath SeriesMy rating: 2 of 5 stars

A ranger sets out to slow down the approach of an invading army, using his bush-craft skills and knowledge of lore, in the hopes of giving his countrymen time to prepare the defences.
Lanrik has been tasked with illustrating the value of the Raithlin, an elite group of rangers who learned their skills from the Halathrin (an ancient elder race) to the king. Unfortunately, the King has a grudge against Lanrik’s family and the man he has tasked with assessing the Raithlin is none other than Lanrik’s rival, Mecklar. The exercise turns serious when Lanrik discovers the barely alive Lathmai, another Raithlin, and learns that one of their own has betrayed them and that an Ulug army is in the process of invading their land. Lanrik sends Mecklar back to warn the king and sets about trying to slow down the army, hoping to give his people a better chance of repelling the invaders and at the same time proving the worth of the Raithlin.
The story is set in Alithoras, a secondary world that is reminiscent of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth in the names of places and the varied geography, first settled by an elder race known as the Halathrin. The land is people by various species, including humans, lohrens, elugs and lethrans, which the cynical may think of as elves, orcs and trolls. The races and their allegiances also mirror somewhat the biases of Tolkien’s world, with the Elugs led by turban wearing and tulwar carrying Azans, who are cleared derived from Arabs and Persians. The world also contains a differentiated system of magic, Uhrengai (pure energy), Lohrengai (white magic) and Elugai (dark magic), harnessed by the various forces at work in the land.
Lanrik is portrayed as a pragmatic person who will do whatever needs to be done to protect his people. He takes the responsibility of being a Raithlin very seriously and is constantly worrying about the effect of his actions will have on the future of the group. He is also driven by the burden of the promises he made to Lathmai and need for revenge against the men that perpetrated her torture and death. Later he finds himself balancing his growing love for Elrissa, a woman he rescued from the enemy camp, and the corrupting power of a magic sword that grants him the ability to protect his companions, but also feeds on the darker side of his nature. Elrissa is said to be an independent woman that is supposedly pragmatic in her worldview, a position in stark contrast with her pacifist thinking and reluctance to commit to the use of her own potential to wield magic. However, her influence in the plot seems rather passive and she very rarely is given an opportunity to show her skills off, other than the other odd enigmatic utterance.
Ryan’s style is self-admittedly influenced by Tolkien’s work, which is clear from the points I made above and from the amount of time spent on describing the various environs with loving detail. In fact, Ryan’s writing shines the most when he is describing the wonders of nature, but then seems lacking with the remainder of the book. It is also clear that Renown of the Raithlin is his first attempt at a novel and shows promise of what he may be able to achieve with practice and experience. However, the biggest failing of this book is in the plot structure and, to a lesser degree in its pacing. The promise on the book’s cover and the blurb is of a story of one man’s struggle to defy an army, and this was what drew me to this book in the first place. Indeed, this concept had the making of a really great story, like a fantasy version of Behind Enemy Lines. However, this major challenge to the plot finds itself resolved a third of the way through the book. What follows is a straight forward quest story of find X and take it to Y. The rambling descriptions also contribute to the lulls in the pacing of the story and whilst it was beautiful prose, that particular style of indulgent description is not relevant to the current generation of fantasy writing.
It is said the imitation is the highest compliment, and Ryan does his best in his overly ambitious homage to Tolkien, even going so far as to offer appendices that include a central legend to Ryan’s world and an ‘encyclopaedic glossary’ of people, places, terms and concepts present in his work. However, I am sure that Ryan understands that even the best of fantasy writers today will struggle to match the depth of world-building achieved by Tolkien. If you are after a slice of nostalgia then perhaps this is the book for you. It is a brave effort from Ryan and shows promise of better works yet to come.

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