The Unremembered

Given the marketing campaign pushing the book, it's evident that Tor Books had some high expectations for Peter Orullian's fantasy debut, The Unremembered. True, the blurb gave readers a feeling of déjà vu, yet my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to give the novel a shot before flying overseas.

Now that I'm done, like many SFF fans have expressed on message boards, I have very mixed feelings about The Unremembered. Some aspects of the book are extremely well-done, showing that this series has more depth than meets the eye and true potential. Unfortunately, the novel features a variety of shortcomings that more or less offset the more positive facets found within its page.

Here's the blurb:

The gods, makers of worlds, seek to create balance—between matter and energy; and between mortals who strive toward the transcendent, and the natural perils they must tame or overcome. But one of the gods fashions a world filled with hellish creatures far too powerful to allow balance; he is condemned to live for eternity with his most hateful creations in that world’s distant Bourne, restrained by a magical veil kept vital by the power of song.

Millennia pass, awareness of the hidden danger fades to legend, and both song and veil weaken. And the most remote cities are laid waste by fell, nightmarish troops escaped from the Bourne. Some people dismiss the attacks as mere rumor. Instead of standing against the real threat, they persecute those with the knowledge, magic and power to fight these abominations, denying the inevitability of war and annihilation. And the evil from the Bourne swells….

The troubles of the world seem far from the Hollows where Tahn Junell struggles to remember his lost childhood and to understand words he feels compelled to utter each time he draws his bow. Trouble arrives when two strangers—an enigmatic man wearing the sigil of the feared Order of Sheason and a beautiful woman of the legendary Far—come, to take Tahn, his sister and his two best friends on a dangerous, secret journey.

Tahn knows neither why nor where they will go. He knows only that terrible forces have been unleashed upon mankind and he has been called to stand up and face that which most daunts him—his own forgotten secrets and the darkness that would destroy him and his world

Before I started the book, the author told me:

Be aware that I went ahead and decided not to be afraid of conventions, where I saw they served my story; but know that I sure as hell am evolving those beyond your assumptions, which is part of the point. Some of this happens in book one; a lot more happens after book one. There's a lot of invention, too, of course. But as I've become fond of saying: Trope-avoidance is the new trope. I'm not fond of books that try so hard to be different that they come off feeling labored. I've read more than my share of those lately.

The way things were going at first, it felt as though this was going to be an homage to works such as J. R. R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara, David Edding's Pawn of Prophecy, and Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World. As a throwback fantasy book, The Unremembered could have worked decidedly well. Such titles make up for a great chunk of the SFF market, and it's understandable that Tor would wish to get their share of the pie.

Given what Orullian had told me, even though at first it appeared to be a ripoff of Jordan's The Eye of the World, I tried to stay on my toes, prepared not to let my guard down when the author would try to screw me by playing with my own preconceptions. Trouble is, this never happened at any point in The Unremembered. And as a huge WoT fan, that really irked me. As many have pointed out, the better part of The Unremembered is, structurally, The Eye of the World with different names for characters, places, and monsters.

Oddly enough, had another publisher like Del Rey, Bantam Dell, or Orbit had the temerity of pulling something like this, I have a feeling that there would have been a lawsuit in the works. It would have been bad form to sort of milk Jordan's ideas and popularity in such a tasteless fashion. Coming from Tor Books, I'm left speechless by the fact that they let this crap fly. I mean, James Frenkel edited this book. He is a seasoned and well-respected editor, by all accounts. I'm persuaded that Frenkel has read The Eye of the World at some point in his career. And yet, at no point during the publishing process has he felt the need to tell his protégé that, as much as it is great to try to emulate talented authors such as Jordan, Tolkien, and the rest, it might be in his best interest to be the first Peter Orullian and not a poor man's version of Robert Jordan. To say that I found that offputting would be an understatement.

Having said that, if you can overlook this "flaw," there are some cool ideas and concepts in The Unremembered. Which is why this was such a big disappointment for me. Peter Orullian created a universe that lives and breathes, something that resounds with depth. I feel that he should have trusted himself more instead of writing his own version of Jordan's opening chapter to The Wheel of Time saga. For WoT fans like me, the ripoff angle becomes impossible to overlook. . .

The worldbuilding is top notch, on par with many of the greats still writing today. It is a rare thing indeed to find such depth in that regard in a fantasy debut. Orullian writes with confidence and his narrative features a thoroughly evocative voice. The scenes come alive and the imagery is vibrant. Again, when you get away from the Jordanesque elements, there is a richness of details pertaining to history, mythology, culture, etc. À la Tolkien, Orullian has a tendency to go a bit over the top with his descriptions. As such, his verbosity probably won't be for everyone. But I didn't find it a detriment, at least where the narrative was concerned. The dialogues were another matter, however. . .

As wonderful as the worldbuilding turned out to be, the characterization was the aspect which left the most to be desired. Clichéd and two-dimensional, the cast of characters was a major disppointment. This is where I expected Orullian to surprise readers, using our own preconceptions against us and delivering a knockout punch in the process. Unfortunately, his use of fantasy tropes and conventions prevents The Unremembered from ever truly lifting off. Though they are a stereotypical bunch, Tahn, Wendra, Sutter, Mira, and the others all have internal struggles they must deal with on top of everything else that's taking place. This should have given the cast more depth and add another dimension to the overall reading experience. Somehow, the execution falls short, often being a case of too little, too late. I couldn't bring myself to care for any character other than Wendra. Yet even her plotline disappoints in the end, never living up to its potential.

The dialogues are often stiff and/or make little sense. Though it may not be as bad as with Donaldson, there's no way uneducated villagers can use such vocabulary. Another problem is that the protagonists sometimes act in pretty erratic fashion. And though they are for the most part vulgar villagers from the ass-end of the world, all of a sudden they become badass and courageous fighters. Sutter starts off as a root digger who has never seen the outside world, yet a few pages later he's fighting monsters out of legend like it's the most natural thing in the world. There is no character growth or evolution. They all start off as humble folks, and then immediately become survivors and heroes. All of which stretches the limits of credibility to the extent that robs this work of any notion of realism, even if you keep in mind that it is a fantasy tale.

The pace is also an issue. Orullian propensity to be verbose makes for rich prose and powerful writing at times. Problem is, it also makes for a tendency to overuse info-dumps and long dialogues that can become downright boring, killing the flow of the story. The rhythm, which is slow-moving throughout, is occasionally brought to a crawl, making it difficult for readers to remain focused.

Peter Orullian's vivid narrative and superior worldbuilding give The Unremembered a truly epic feel. Sadly, the weak characterization, the ad nauseam use of genre tropes, and the snail's pace sort of offset the positive elements of the book. All of which making for an uneven work of fantasy. It's not great, nor is it atrocious. It somehow falls somewhere in between, which might explain the disparate reviews the novel has garnered thus far. While some readers might find it engaging and powerful, others will savage it. This complex and sprawling tale should leave no one indifferent, that's for sure.

Given the hopes many of us had for this debut, The Unremembered can be nothing but a disappointment for me. I could never look past the "homage" to the structure of The Eye of the World. There are enough glimpses of brilliance and powerful writing for me to give volume 2 a shot. As long as there are no crystal sword or a horn that brings heroes back from the dead, I want to see what Peter Orullian has in store for this series. After all, the author also told me this:

But I'm guiding you down a path, for sure. And sometimes it's pretty subtle, I just hate always being obvious. Still, while the series is going in a different direction, the opening volume is in the vein of Jordan or Brooks, to set expectations that may later be violated; so if you aren't down with those cats . . . well, you'll see.

I feel that the structure of the tale should have called for more misdirection and violated expectations in this opening installment. Waiting for the subsequent volumes to pull the rug from underneath readers might be too late for many of them. Given the mixed reviews The Unremembered has garnered so far, I have a feeling that quite a few SFF fans won't be back for more. And this time, maybe James Frenkel should read both The Great Hunt and The Dragon Reborn, just in case.

Disappointing. . .

The final verdict: 6.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada,USA, Europe.

22 commentaires:

Scott said...

Indeed Pat. I think that making his first volume be so close to Jordan or anyone else in this day and age of fantasy is a BIG mistake. Expecting readers to wait for the differences in the second volume almost seem presumptuous on Orullians' part doesn't it? Like as if to say...just will change your mind...

No sir, you need to do something to change my mind from the outset or why should I ever bother? That's not how to sell books. TOR should know better.

Honest review Pat, thanks!

Kirshy said...

I picked up this book from the library a couple weeks ago (thankfully I didn't pay for it), and about 50 or 60 pages into it before I gave up. It's fine to pay homage to the greats of the past, and the heroes journey is a tale as old as time, but it was just badly written. Cliche after cliche, a mind numbing use of adjectives and stupid sounding words, place and character names that were difficult to pronounce. It felt like the guy tried so hard to write an epic fantasy that he forgot to write a good book.

I give you credit Pat for finishing it, and anyone else who managed to get through this piece of tripe. But for those of you out there who are on the fence, take my advice and don't waste your time. This book should not have been published, instead it should have gone through a few more revision stages and alpha readers. A very big disappointment.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there was promise here but I think the author was pushed into the published world a little too early. If this was a first draft sent to me as a beta-reader I'd definitely encourage the author to shore up the pieces you mentioned were weak, throwing in a lack of mysticism in the prologue.

Russ said...

So...serious question here. If I didn't like the first WoT book, should I give this one a pass or give that 'trope' another go?

Spaz said...

I've never read and Jordan (*gasp*, I know!) and still had great difficulty with this book for all the other reasons you mentioned.

Great review.

Sally said...

I seem to It would loorecall mentioning that the blurb sounded like a glorified rehash when that was first released.

It would lool like that's very much the case for the book so I guess I'll be steering well clear.

(Thank you for your comments on it as well Kirshy, Pat's almost never failed me but it's nice to have someone offer a well fleshed out second opinion too!)

Slynt said...

For what it's worth, I like the honesty of the review and it made me remove the book from my Amazon basket. Thanks

SQT said...

I lost interest pretty quickly in this one. I don't mind something being derivative, but this one borrowed too much.

Grack21 said...

I thought the same thing when the second Goodkind came out, thinking wow is this wasn't Tor the legal punches would be flying. I might give the 2nd a shot if the reviews are better. I always give each author a second shot unless its like mind numbing Newcombish.

Anonymous said...

The following could describe both The Eye of the World and The Unremembered:

A village youth who is unaware that he is adopted and is in fact the magical hope of the land encounters a monstrous being of a kind not ever before seen so far from such creatures' usual northern habitat. News of these creatures' appearances in his remote village and elsewhere across the land will subsequently be doubted by the powers that be. A usual visitor and bringer of news to the village is late in his arrival, though he eventually appears. Meanwhile, an exotic magical user and his sword-bearing guardian turn up. The magician tells the youth that he must depart his home to save his neighbors from danger. The magician takes the saviour youth, two more young men, and a young woman from the village. Some of them are ostensibly taken along just because they know too much to be left safely behind, although all will have important parts to play of their own. Some of the youths undergo sword and fighting instruction from the sword bearer, who is unimpressed by their abilities except for the youth's skill with bow and arrow. The party flees various dangers and is eventually separated into three groups. Two of the youths explore an abandoned, cursed city in which is found a disembodied spirit of evil. After various adventures, the parties arrive separately at one of the land's great cities. There is a force of guardians of the public morals deeply hostile to the use of magic, who regard the magic user and his kind as practitioners of evil, and who are not reluctant to use violence against them. The savior youth interferes in a local event and is threatened with punishment by the authorities. The various parties are eventually reunited. They need to proceed very quickly to the northeastern region of the land, which they accomplish courtesy of an arcane shortcut method of travel. This is the region where the sword bearer's people are from. The sword bearer is of royal lineage. The savior youth discovers he is adopted and reacts negatively toward this revelation. The group proceeds through an unnaturally harsh environment, and arrives at their destination, a well of esoteric power. Here the savior youth encounters as foe a powerful representative of the great enemy. The saviour youth triumphs, through means that are unclear to him. It is apparent that the allies have not won the war but just the opening battle of that war.

Gillossen said...

J'étais curieux de connaître ton avis et je vois que nous avons à peu près le même Pat, ça me rassure. ;-)

Kirshy said...

Russ, if you didn't like WoT, then you definitely won't like this lesser and badly written re visioning of it. Steer clear.

Anonymous said...

If that description of similarities is truthful, then Jordan’s widow should sue Tor and the Author, because it sounds like almost a complete copy.

Anonymous said...

Gods, I just recieved my copy in the mail. Will give it an honest try though.

Anonymous said...


Orullian better be glad TOR covering his ass beacause if they wern't their, his ass would get HAMMERED left and right with lawsuits and accusations. Shit, i'm suprised the didn't sue his ass the day his book came (or the day they annouced the synopsis).

Give it up, Peter. those WOT\LOTR\SHANNARA\SOT days are GONE. The only reason that brandon sanderson and blake charlton are riding the charlie sheen torpedo of secess in the FIRST PLACE is that they have critics yelling OMG NOLSTOlGA and GEE THEY CAN WRITE CHARACTORS WELL! fuck em. One day fantasy writers will see thorugh that SHIT and do them in like poor boy peter. Heh, neo-classical fantasy some people classify it as. Neo-classical fantasy my ASS!

Anonymous said...

Oh dear and I've order a signed copy from Signed Page!
I did so love the cover - so special mention for the artist!

Paul D said...

I have to be honest, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with some of these reviews - the summary of this and WOT sounds like a summary of LOTR. And WOT was hugely criticized when it first came out for being derivative, it wasn't until later in the series that it branched out.

Ranting Dragon said...

I have responded to your review in my own review of The Unremembered.

Though I don't agree with some of your points, I very much enjoyed reading your thorough review.

Jenny said...

Not only is a HUGE portion of this book overused tropes and cliches, but the author's religion shines through, not only is the mythology at play but also in actual scenes and dialogue. A scene in the book (I won't say which, for fear of spoilers) is copied if not word for word then at least action for action from a situation is LDS church history. To be honest, I found myself (I'm also LDS) reading this book not because I cared about the characters, but because I wanted to see what else Orullian was gonna borrow. Pretty boring, and even though I read the words, I couldn't tell you how it ended.

Anonymous said...

Very much in agreement with you, patrick. seriously, you cn fold these charactors up, put them in a regift package and put it in the mailbox, they are flat flat flat flat FLAT.

Yeah, the unremembered. if only I can unremember this piece of shitty shitty shit right here.

Anonymous said...

It took a while, but I finally worked my way through it in hopes that it would turn out to be a single volume, stand alone book. I was disappointed to find otherwise. I'm getting very tired of multi-volume works.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree that this book opened like Robert Jordans Eye of the World.

I actually kind of liked the first 2/3 quarters of the book but the end totally killed it for me. I was waiting for Tarwin Gap (epic battle) to happen, but in the end it's only a small showdown and no giant fight.

The other problem is that the author seemed to have no idea how to end the book. I looked all over the book itself and didn't find anything relating to a series yet that is what I felt what this book would turn into.

Some character's stories (highway man) were not needed, also there was some unresolved plot (witch like character).

In the end, reading this book was like taking a bite into a cookie only to find it being stale.