So, I finally finished the Acacia Trilogy by David Anthony Durham. I read the first one about two years ago and put it aside because I’ll be honest, it starts slllooowwwww. Durham’s background is in historical fiction, and it shows.
That being said, a person of color writing about people of color in a high fantasy setting that is NOT based loosely on Medieval Europe and in which the villains are white, for the most part, is enough to pique my interest.
Also, the main plot revolves around a gigantic and continent-wide system of slavery. This is not on the continent where the majority of enslaved people are being used, but the continent where the enslaved people come from. And they are rounded up as children, put on a boat, and sent to “Other Lands”…and no one knows why, or what happens to them when they get there.
Now, it’s not the best series I’ve ever read, and I also found it oddly frustrating…I kept wanting people to get their shit together, forreals. There was a lot of floundering around and poor decision-making on just about everyone’s parts. But I wonder if perhaps it is partly the same reaction I had to Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series-the characters were behaving realistically, which is often extremely frustrating for a reader.
That being said, i did very much enjoy the departure from the normal fantasy trope, where the plot revolves around drastic changes for one person-this is about changing the way the entire world works, and the vision, risk and sacrifice that may be necessary in order to do so.
Durham’s unique approach to morality in Fantasy literature is refreshingly ambiguous-instead of being depressingly ambiguous a la George R.R. Martin-and is best summed up by another reviewer:
One of the places he most manipulates expectations is in his approach to characters…Morally relativistic, yes, but with an intrinsic belief that most people want to do the right thing. Even Durham’s “evilest” characters act in (what they’ve convinced themselves to be) the best interests of others. To them, the ends always justify the means. Layered there is an argument that power corrupts in so far as it blinds the individual to the consequences of action. It’s an interesting conversation at Abercrombie and Parker who write without a recognition of good and evil. To them all motivations are the same, only outcomes differ, interpreted as right or wrong objectively by others. Durham recognizes goodness in all its forms, most especially when evil is done in its commission.
That is some real shit right there.
Anyhow, in closing, I do recommend the series. If nothing else, it gives a really intense sense of atmosphere, sensory immediacy, and emotional wrenching.