Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hidden Gems 3: Russell Kirkpatrick

One of the eternal questions for those involved in the publishing industry is how effective is cover art in selling books? Which styles work and which simply don’t? On the subject of the first I would have to say they do, well because cover art has drawn me to certain books. I remember clearly when I had just started uni and I was wandering around whitcoulls between lectures. A rather simple cover caught my eye; a spoked wheel with a snake entwined around it. There were nine books with the same cover all in different colours, for some reason this intrigued me and took the first one sat down and started reading it. Within a few pages I was hooked. I came back a few days later and bought the book. Within a few months I owned the entire series. That is incidentally the story of how I was hooked on the wheel of time and in a real sense what really won me over to the fantasy genre (although I had read several fantasy books by then). That is not the only time a cover has drawn me into a book. The cover art on Russell Kirkpatrick’s Across the Face of the World is a thing of beauty. Unlike those from the wheel of time it is anything but simple. A cascading waterfall surrounded by a forest dwarf a bridge across a canyon with tiny figures standing at the edge. It literally screams epic to any would-be passerby and inspires the urge to open the book. Of course once it is open it is now the authors turn to try and keep that attention through an engaging story and well written prose. On that note it is time to get into the reasons I consider Russell Kirkpatrick to be a hidden gem in the fantasy genre.

On the surface Kirkpatrick’s debut fantasy trilogy resembles just one more of the legion of quest fantasy epics inspired by Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. Two brothers; Leith and Hal, are forced to leave their small village on the edge of civilization with a small company to rescue their parents who have been kidnapped by an agent of the despot known as the undying man. Along the way they learn that the undying man is massing his armies for a massive campaign of conquest. They also learn of a mythical object that may or may not exist that could have the power to stop him. So far so typical. But it was the characters that certainly set this trilogy apart. They were so different with their insecurities and the unexpected paths they took in their development. Throw in some interesting plot twists and unique perspective on landscape (Kirkpatrick is also a mapmaker/geography lecturer at the university of Waikato) and were left with something that really stood out. I remember enjoying the first books thoroughly but being slightly disappointed with the third which I felt drew things out too much. His second trilogy Husk built on these strengths. The first in the series Path of Revenge really blew me away at the time I read it. It was just so different. Gone was the quest fantasy formant instead jumping around a few storylines which were only loosely connected together by a central string (which would be focused on more in later volumes). His characterization had also improved to the point, where I can safely say they were one of the most unique and interesting set of characters ever assembled. Sadly the second book Dark Heart, while still good, went off the boil a bit. I have yet to read the concluding volume, Beyond the Wall of Time but I have high hopes that things will get back on track.

Kirkpatrick’s first trilogy has been available in Australia and New Zealand for years but has only recently been published in the U.S. and U.K. Apparently the first volume has sold well in the States and I have high hopes for Path of Revenge which, in my opinion, is by far his best book.

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