Author: David Anthony Durham
Publisher: Doubleday • 576 pages • £12.99
Known for his tales of ancient Rome and the American frontier, David Anthony Durham’s first foray into fantasy isn’t a million miles away from the historical fiction that he’s previously penned. Indeed, there’s a tragic Shakespearean quality about the royal melodrama of Acacia, which begins with Leodan Akaran, king of the titular idyllic isle and head of the vast Acacian empire, hatching a plan to send his four children to the far-flung corners of the Known World after he’s toppled from the throne by the fiendish forces of icy warrior race the Mein.
Refreshingly, Durham doesn’t follow The Lord of the Rings’ well-worn quest structure that’s been favoured by many lesser fantasy scribes. Instead Acacia opens – albeit slowly – with Akaran’s overthrow, before picking up pace as it moves several years into the future with the Mein’s monstrous leader, Hanish, searching for the missing Akaran siblings, whom he intends to sacrifice.
However, Durham does bring Tolkien to mind with the expert, often minute detail with which he’s built his land. He also displays an astute understanding of the nature of history and the art of politics, such as how the occupying Mein assimilate their customs and cultures with those of the Acacians.
Crucially, there are no moral absolutes in Acacia, with the
conflicted Akaran (who evokes Lear and Hamlet), damned by how his supposedly utopian kingdom is founded on drug trafficking and the covert slavery of many of its citizens. This could be the arrival of a fantasy classic.