The Heart of the World is a land in strife. For fifty years the Holy Empire of Mann, an empire and religion born from a nihilistic urban cult, has been conquering nation after nation. Their leader, Holy Matriarch Sasheen, ruthlessly maintains control through her Diplomats, priests trained as subtle predators.
Ash is a member of an elite group of assassins, the Rōshun - who offer protection through the threat of vendetta. Forced by his ailing health to take on an apprentice, he chooses Nico, a young man living in the besieged city of Bar-Khos. At the time, Nico is hungry, desperate, and alone in a city that finds itself teetering on the brink.
Farlander is a solid debut for world-building fans, but a tad weak on the character side. Great detail is given to the politics and history of the world and cultures, especially that of the dominant religious group the Cult of Mann who are into some pretty sick stuff. But many of the characters come off too staid.
Ash the master assassin in question and his apprentice Nico take a lot of time to develop, but attachment does come eventually. However, side characters are often introduced only for them to peter out to nothing. This is especially true of many characters who could have been more interesting from Ash's Roshun. When the action happens it is very tightly written and exhilarating. But there are long slow parts between these scenes. Still there is a little story about Ash rescuing someone that was nearly worth reading the whole book alone for. A few more examples of Ash's younger prowess would have gone a long way to hook me in further.
Farlander is an interesting mix of Flintlock Fantasy in a slightly industrialized world light on magic but with airships and plenty of swordsmanship. I wouldn't call Farlander a true cross-genre novel as the technology aspect takes a back seat to the politic and characters, but it is there floating around the edges of the world. Since this is only the first salvo in the series Buchanan could be planning on delving further into these developments, but it seems unlikely given the political driven nature of the story.
Buchanan pulls off many surprising turns, but in the end it is an uneven, albeit very enjoyable ride. The pacing is very stop and go. A some points this works well as we get to dwell on some big reveal, but than the moment is prolonged too much. Farlander gives us a world where every day is a battle for survival and no punches are pulled including the big surprise and suspenseful ending. I give Farlander 7.5 out of 10 hats. I'm intrigued enough to check out the sequel Stands a Shadow as it will be out in the UK this July and November in the US. If the author can up the ante on the character side he may have a fan for life in me.
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