When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner

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I bought this book without even reading the blurb on the back. I was in a rush and had credit on my Powell’s card and it looked interesting. What more do you need? Fantasy is one of the genres that I particularly like, and one that I tend to be very critical of, compared to say Sci-Fi where I find I can enjoy almost anything.

However over the years as complex characters that are neither all good or all evil and better world building has evolved my expectations of what I expect from a good fantasy novel have changed. It is no longer enough to have a hero or group of heroes on a quest to find gold, slay the evil wizard, stop the rampaging god or whatever. I am tired of elves and dwarfs. I dislike a character that is the greatest anything, swordsman, thief, cunning mastermind, you name it. Occasionally these can be elements that work but for the most part are played out.

The characters need to be believable and fully fleshed. They do not simply walk through a forest as if it’s a stroll thru Central Park, but the flora and fauna are also described as well as issues such as the difficulty of crossing a stream or finding food. Logistics issues are important. Why are they doing something? I dislike it when every major decision seems to be a childish whim, more in keeping with what a child or young adult of the 22 century would do rather than someone that has grown up in gritty, if fictional times.

I think that there is a range of current authors that are breaking out of this shell such as Erikson, Rothfuss and Abercrombie, to name a few, and this is my first shot at Turner, who is definitely in their class as a differentiated writer. As a side note several of these authors are worth following on Twitter as they can be pretty funny. Also maps. Did I mention maps? I like to see where the places that are referenced are and how far from point A to point B is.

While at the start of When the Heavens Fall seems to be your standard adventure, a disgruntled elite warrior is called back for a mission, rebellious and unhappy and forced to travel with unwanted companions. As his story line develops additional major characters are introduced as well as additional story lines that do not seem related, creating a complex picture in which at least one major player’s motives are unclear.

It is obviously a huge world with a complex past and many races and gods, immortals, forms of magic and rules on how and when they can be used. All of these features are introduced fairly slowly so that you are not overwhelmed by too much information, and there is a lot of it. Some are explained in a fair amount of detail and others just passing, as is needed. Most of the characters develop as the story progresses which I enjoyed a good deal. Their motives change, or are questioned, their relationships with others grows and their future goals start to emerge.

I felt it dragged a bit at about the midpoint, with the adventurers slowly inching closer to the goal. But as a first book I think that this was very good, and even in the slow parts important facts are dropped that I suspect will be important clues in future books.

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The book ends with lots of unanswered questions, but not as a cliff hanger. As I think back about the story lines I see new ones emerging as well as some that I wondered about all book. The big one is about the subtitle The Chronicles of the Exile. Who is or was exiled?  Reading the blurb online about the next book- Dragon Hunters– it seems that none of the characters from this book will be present, which is too bad since there is so much unanswered, but I suspect that Turner will bring it all together in future novels.

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