1 October was a big day for me. It was the day my fantasy novel Chains of Gwyndorr launched in South Africa. About 90 people attended the event (see some photos at the end of this post). One of the most special moments of the morning for me was when Ian Laxton – who interviewed me – shared his review of the book. For those not at the launch (and even for those who were, but who want to hear it again) here is Ian’s review of Chains of Gwyndorr…
I must start by saying that fantasy fiction is not a genre that I am familiar with. I have not read a single page of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. So my reading of Joan’s Chains of Gwyndorr was in no way influenced by other writings of the fantasy genre.
Let me say right up front that I enjoyed the read and became more and more involved in the story as it rolled along. One of the attractions of the story is that it is not bound by any particular place or time in history. It could be basically anywhere on earth and in any era before the dawn of technology, or, possibly, where technology has mercifully not arrived. In other words, a magical, mysterious, strange place where anything can happen, and often does.
The story charges along like a freight train, from one situation to another, Joan cleverly jumping from one place to another, creating tension as the plot unfolds in several places at the same time. And, like any good tale, it builds steadily to an unexpected climax.
At first glance, it looks a bit like a children’s fairy tale. It is not that at all. Of course, it will appeal to older children and teenagers, but it also appealed to me, a reasonably harsh critic of the written word.
Why is this?
Firstly, the characters are real. We have the good guys and the bad guys, as in most stories, but in this case they have a sense of reality and not fantasy about them. You can understand them, relate to them. You have met all of them, good and bad, along the way in your life. You sympathise and support the good guys, despise and fear the bad guys. And that always makes for a good story.
Secondly, Joan uses magic so well in the plot. Magic is part and parcel of fantasy fiction, so I am told, but it can be overdone. It Chains of Gwyndorr, supernatural things do occur, but somehow they don’t turn the story into a joke. They flow and seem normal in the situation. And, of course, as we know, supernatural things happen all around us and have done so since creation. All of us have encountered something we have labelled as a miracle because there was, honestly, no other explanation for what happened.
Thirdly, the writing is exquisite. The prose becomes lyrical at times as we sense the reality of the situations being described. The slum is ugly and smells bad; the forest is dark, menacing and dangerous; the palaces are opulent and completely over-the-top; the monastery bothers are epic examples of self-righteous hypocrisy.
Finally, the story runs through the whole spectrum of human emotions and behaviours. We have discrimination, class distinction, oppression, cruelty, sexism and intolerance based on false religious beliefs; on the other hand we also have love, loyalty, ingenuity, unselfishness, bravery and self-sacrifice.
The book leaves the reader with the clear message that human beings are, well, just human beings. We do the same things, no matter what the time or place. We have the same emotions and dreams. Some of us are mostly good, others mostly bad. But, ultimately, in the end, good will prevail over evil.
I cannot wait for the sequel.