Review of a Reader

3 Mar

The Reader of Acheron

By Walter Rhein

Paperback:  £12.21/$16.46                                    Kindle: £3.76/$6.25

Trade paperback: ISBN-13: 978-0-9910573-4-4; ISBN-10: 0991057341

Kindle ebook: ISBN-13: 978-0-9910573-5-1; ISBN-10: 099105735X

ePub ebook: ISBN-13: 978-0-9910573-6-8; ISBN-10: 0991057368

The Reader of Acheron is the first volume of a new series, The Slaves of Erafor. Starting a speculative fiction novel with a child learning to read is a bold move – although learning to read is something that will be familiar, at least dimly, to any reader, it hardly stands as particularly high upon the list of exciting activities, yet we quickly learn that reading is an illegal and immoral act in the post-apocalyptic world that Rhein has crafted.

The province of Acheron is the unwitting eye of the storm as a literate outlaw (the eponymous Reader) who is teaching others to read takes up residence in its forests, soldiers are deserting, the one slave who isn’t drugged out of his mind is growing mutinous, a library is discovered and a Seneschal arrives in pursuit of the outlaw. Ultimately, we are presented with two parallel storylines as we follow the adventures of hunter and hunted, until at last they collide in an explosive finale.

Rhein applies a witty, intellectual twist to what is, in essence, a novel in the swords-and-sorcery vein (even if there is only the odd hint of sorcery and precious little in the way of swords!), an approach reminiscent of Vance’s Dying Earth. Although the story does have moments of action in which swords are drawn and blood is spilt, it is not really a book for those who just want repetitive thrills and genre conventions, rather it is a book for those who like mystery, plotting and thoughtful characters.

The revelations that come about the nature of the world are not unpredictable, but Rhein avoids falling into the trap of spending too long hinting at what most readers will guess early on, confirming suspicions near the beginning, even if the details are largely left unexplained by the end of the novel, leaving plenty for subsequent instalments to cover. Indeed, he does a good job of tying up the various storylines whilst leaving a clear hook for the next volume, and presents a story that you will want to continue with. Recommended.

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