“The Farlander” is the debut novel of writer Col Buchanan. The first book in the “Heart of the World” series, I picked this up because I heard Farlander is similar to Brent Weeks' Night Angel trilogy. After reading it, I can see why.
The Heart of the World actually referred to a land locked in war for most part of the past fifty years due to an expanding empire called Mann. The Holy Empire of Mann, an empire and religion born from a nihilistic urban cult, has almost conquered every nation of note in the region except for The Free Ports, a loose alliance of city states banding together for protection.
The Holy Matriarch Sasheen however has another problem to deal with when her only son ritually murdered a young woman protected by an elite group of assassins, the Roshun. The Roshun tasked legendary assassin, Ash and his young apprentice Nico, the duty of killing the young prince of the greatest empire in the Heart of The World.
Like I said earlier, having read this book I can see why some people think of “The Night Angel” trilogy. However, I also think comparing the two works does both Col Buchanan and Brent Weeks some disservice. Although it has similarity, there are some subtle differences.
For one thing, there are three main plotlines in The Farlander. Ash, a legendary assassin who has grown too old for his job; Nico, the young man picked up by Ash as his apprentice; and battle between The Free Ports and the Holy Empire of Mann.
First the good news; the characters of Ash and Nico were excellent. Both characters felt real with both merits and flaws in their character and generally this could be said of all the characters written in the book. Characteristic of the main players in the book were well-fleshed out and even the villains of Mann were well written.
The Heart of the World was an extremely well thought-out world. The Roshun, the Holy Empire of Mann, the besieged city of Bar-Khos were all given time to shine and you could feel the time, effort and love Buchanan spent thinking out the world. Even the religion of Mann and Dao were well done. The book also had some excellent action scenes. Battles were well written with many rousing and exciting action scenes throughout the book.
The problem begins when Buchanan tries to do too much. The battle between The Free Ports and the Holy Empire of Mann was something the book could do without as nothing much happened on that end. However the biggest problem was the setting.
Although the world was well thought out, I felt the idea to give the book a steampunk vibe with airships and guns was a mistake. There’s an obligating air battle and some scenes with guns but outside that there’s nothing. The same could be said for the small amount of mysticism shown in this book. It would have been better for the writer if he just struck with a sword and military feel to the setting. In some ways, this shows Buchanan’s inexperience as he tried too hard to give an epic fantasy feel to his debut.
However, I do like the book. Although not great, “The Farlander” was a workmanlike book that was impressive in its own way. When the story sticks to Ash, Nico and the empire of Mann, it flows. You could understand how the young prince came to be the way he was and how a religion like Mann became an empire.
I found the twist at the end to be great and Buchanan obviously has some talent. The book only sagged when it goes off the Roshun and the empire. If Buchanan could have a tighter focus on the story, then second book should be good. I look forward to it.