It sucks to be the Chosen One…
I like tropes. They are a wonderful shorthand that tells us immediately what’s going on. Take the fantasy sub-genre sword & sorcery, for example. You know the ones I mean? The—orphaned, of course—Chosen One assembles a team of lovable misfits, and off they go to save the world.
My guest today is Suzanne Rogerson, author of a new version of the swords & sorcery genre, Visions of Zarua. She joins us to talk about her life and her writing:
What was your first car? An ancient Fiesta that I picked up for £150. I couldn’t even drive at the time, I bought it so my boyfriend could give me driving lessons. My mum named it the Rusty White Jalopy. Sometimes we had to smack the starter motor with a hammer to get it going and drive with the windows down to stop the radiator overheating. Also it had no suspension on one side so we’d weave around the road to avoid potholes and speed bumps. I’m surprised we were never pulled over and accused of drink-driving.
Star Wars, Star Trek or Firefly? Definitely Star Trek – I’ve really enjoyed the recent films. I don’t like Star Wars and I’ve never heard of Firefly.
Worst movie ever? Jeepers Creepers, but that is followed closely by most of Tarantino’s movies (exception Kill Bill).
Who would you most like to sit next to on an airplane? As I am a nervous flyer, Superman comes to mind. Or maybe Ironman. They’re two of my favourite superheroes as well, by the way.
Best guilty pleasure ever? Sitting in the garden on a sunny afternoon, drinking Pimms and writing on my laptop.
As a child (or now!) what did you want to be when you grew up? Before I wanted to be a writer, I always liked the idea of being a vet. I remember performing operations on my soft toys with my nurses set.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?
That definitely has to be ‘You can’t edit a blank page.’
What are you working on right now? I am editing ‘The Lost Sentinel’ book one of Bloodlines, a planned trilogy. The magical island of Kalaya is slowly decaying as its people turn their back on magic. Those that still believe and practice magic are exiled to the mountains. These mystics must battle to save their island not just from the ignorance of man, but from raiders across the sea. With their Sentinel dying without a successor, and a Soul Eater feeding on the dead spirits, time as well as hope is running out for the Kalayan people. Can the lost Sentinel be found before it’s too late?
Visions of Zarua by Suzanne Rogerson
Two wizards, 350 years apart.
Together they must save the realm of Paltria from Zarua’s dark past.
An ancient darkness haunts the realm of Paltria.
Apprentice wizard Paddren is plagued by visions of a city on the brink of annihilation. When his master Kalesh dies in mysterious circumstances, the Royal Order of Wizards refuses to investigate.
Helped by his childhood friend, the skilled tracker Varnia, and her lover Leyoch, Paddren vows to find the killer.
The investigation leads Paddren down a sinister path of assassins, secret sects and creatures conjured by blood magic. But he is guided by a connection with a wizard from centuries ago – a wizard whose history holds the key to the horror at the heart of the abandoned city of Zarua. Can Paddren decipher his visions in time to save the Paltrian people from the dark menace of Zarua’s past?
Not only do I enjoy tropes, but I especially like it when people play with them. Joss Whedon is a master of this one. (Need to kill the evil undead? Use a blonde teenager.) Or take Suzanne Rogerson’s refreshing version of the sword & sorcery genre in her Visions of Zarua.
On one level, this is a standard hero quest. But just wait for those twists! The first comes when you realize there are actually two reluctant heroes, Paddren and Jago, separated by centuries but bound by a common enemy. Another twist is that they don’t even get to have sex as a motivator. The bravest, smartest, and most capable character is actually Paddren’s best friend, Varnia, and she’s already in a committed relationship. In fact, the only possible virgin is Paddren, and that doesn’t seem to have any particular effect on the unfolding plot.
Despite truly horrific and escalating visions, Paddren isn’t particularly interested in saving the world from those predictions. (Of course, if I saw murdered babies and severed heads on poles every time I closed my eyes, I’m guessing I might not feel like singing Kumbaya either…) And Paddren’s friends Varnia and Leyoich are just in it for the chance to get married. But as events unfold, the trio are caught up in escalating events which make it impossible for any of them to step away.
This is an almost flawless epic. Kind-of… While paying loving and careful homage to the genre, author Suzanne Rogerson delicately gives many of its most revered tropes a decided twist. Consider how she applies the staples of the genre:
- The quest. (Be named the Chosen One, recover the macguffin, fulfill The Prophecy, save the world. True love optional.) Only in Visions of Zarua, it’s not so much a prophecy as a chance meeting for four-year-old Paddren—who literally bumps into the guy who’s been waiting to tap a Chosen One for 350 years—that gets him the Universe-Saving gig. And the hero? It’s his best friend Varnia—an orphan (of course) and total badass.
- Will they or won’t they? (If it’s season one/book one of the series—they won’t.) But this book is an epic standalone, and that question is answered the first time we meet Varnia in the post-coital arms of Paddren’s servant Leyoch.
- One order of super-stud hero to go? The hero is probably somewhat barbaric but definitely larger than life, an honest to gosh evil-bashing machine until his last manly breath. Except this time it’s a girl who unlocks her magical abilities, turns into the badass (and bad tempered) fighter who has to keep rescuing the others.
- What’s in it for me? Despite the hero’s knee-jerk evil-fighting ways, s/he is mainly motivated by self-interest. I have to say that this book nails this one. Varnia and Leyoch just want to stop having to sneak around for sex, Paddren wants to avenge his mentor’s murder and get back to his studies, and nobody wants to face the ultimate bad guy.
- Attractive people are good. Unattractive ones are either bad or funny. No
fat, uglyappearance-challenged hero will ever stick it to the manstop evil. Or get laidrescue the maiden. Or even make the last-second winning run/basket/goal/WTF that cricket-thing issave the universe. Author Suzanne Rogerson doesn’t touch this one. (Hey, don’t judge—even Buffy and her posse were cute.)
- If you kill the leader of the bad guys, their minions will close up shop and go away. No way will they say to themselves, “Hey! We’ve got this terrific org and now there’s upward mobility. Evil rocks!” This book’s structure, with parallel tales of two wizards separated by centuries but united by their enemies also allows for new evil leaders to emerge. But it goes even one step beyond that by asking whether evil deeds and actions can ever be truly repented, or if an evil soul can achieve redemption. These are not issues that troubled Zena, Conan, or Buffy.
- The government/suits/or maybe organized religion did it. (Duh) I’m not touching this one because of spoilers, but it’s NOT what you think…[clamps hands over mouth]
- Bad guys, outlaws, and imperial stormtroopers can’t shoot worth shit. Unless they are nameless extras, preferably wearing a red shirt, and it’s before the second commercial break. (Double duh) In the very best Thud & Blunder** fashion, Paddren’s team manages to counter everything sent against them, often by the skin of their teeth, but with a maximum amount of carnage all around. [**Check out Poul Anderson’s 1977 essay or at least the early paragraph with the hilarious sendup of the genre at http://www.sfwa.org/2005/01/on-thud-and-blunder/]
- Horses. Horses.
The pace of this book is slow, epic, building gradually and escalating to the inevitable final conflict. If you’re looking for a quick read, it’s not the book for you. But if you’re ready to spend a lot of time getting to know these characters as they face the twists of their huge story, I think you’ll enjoy Visions of Zarua. As a reviewer, I can also say how much I appreciate the careful and meticulous editing that goes back for every clue planted along the way and slips them into the denouement. This is a big book, a truly epic story, but the small and large threads of telling two parallel stories and bringing them together to a common conclusion is beautifully done.
There were a few things that weren’t favorites for me. Paddren’s unrelieved bad temper and overall crabby outlook on life, while perhaps understandable, just got old quickly. I’d have liked to see something happen to change the incessantly dour self-pity. Okay, so your foster-dad is killed and you’ve got a crush on your best friend—who is in love with your only other friend—and you’ve got to face terrible evil to save the world. No job is perfect… Another small annoyance is the timely arrival of new magical talents which seem to materialize just as the stakes ramp up.
But set against the epic scope of the story, the characters’ three-dimensional development and growth, and the meticulously thought-out plot, these are minor points. Overall, Visions of Zarua is a terrific achievement and Suzanne Rogerson is obviously a writer to watch.
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
Book Title: Visions of Zarua
Publisher: Suzanne Rogerson
Length: 472 pages
Release Date:November 16, 2015