Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Review | Acacia - David Anthony Durham

Acacia is a book that subverts all expectations with its twists. Whenever it seems to have fallen into a narrative track, be sure of one thing: it's waiting to surprise you with a new twist. Acacia is one of the best epic fantasies I've read in a good while, and I'll tell you why: its scale. I don't mean in terms of thousands-strong armies, or massive conflicts like in the Wheel of Time. I mean that the actual conflicts in Acacia are far larger and more difficult: the protagonists are the children of an empire whose wealth is founded on the trafficking of slaves, which they trade for a drug used to subjugate their people - the mist. Reform is sought, but with a rival nation - the Mein - invading, the League - who support slavery - in control of all shipping through the empire, and the hopeless addiction of most of their former subjects to the drug, their success seems impossible. That's just a brief, and very inaccurate summary, but the book's scale is just so epic and changeable that the actual plot is difficult to describe without spoilers.

The protagonists are also likeable and developed - they change realistically throughout their experiences, and although the coincidences in what happens to them seem a little... unlikely, I could put that aside. It is fiction, after all. The only character whose development/change seemed a bit forced to me is Corinn, near the end of the novel - in the course of about three pages, she changes considerably. I won't spoil it, though!

Another problem caused by the number of main characters is that there's more 'telling' than 'showing' in certain parts of the book, and there's a bit more infodumping than you'd like. Apart from these minor flaws, though, I can only say: read Acacia, you won't regret it. It's a fantsy with some real issues and difficulties, not just 'how many trollocs can Rand burn now?' Its only flaws are minor, and sympathetic characters on both sides of the conflict mean there are no easy resolutions here!


For anyone who likes their epic fantasies with a dusting of grit and dilemma


  1. Hmmm, I've never heard of this one. But I will say it definitely sounds amazing. Quite a fantasy to need the sticky notes for. :) I love having my sticky notes and use them for all books anyway. But this sounds wonderful. Thanks!

  2. I don't think I've ever done that! (Maybe I should) But yes, it's one of the best epic fantasies I've read in a while: not quite up to George R R Martin or Steven Erikson, though, in my opinion - too much summary and the magic isn't nearly as interesting or mysterious. Still, you should give it a go when you've got time - and you're welcome!

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  4. This book was a mixed bag for me. While I love the overall idea and setting of the story, I was less than impressed with the actual delivery. Podded along with way too many characters. I struggle with Erikson and Bakker (though not with Martin), so I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised.

  5. Well, I'm an Erikson fan myself, so that might have something to do with it, though I wouldn't rate Acacia as highly. As you said, delivery faltered a little, and I think a lot of that is associated with the 'summary' style used in parts. Have you read any other novels that do this? I remember struggling with sections of 'Beyond the Shadows' because of the same problem.