Jonathan Wylie
The First Named (Book 1 of Servants of Ark)
Corgi 1987

In a sudden coup d'etat, a soldier named Parokkan seize the power on the isle of Ark. The king's three sons flee together with the wizard Ferragamo to a remote part of the island, from where a resistance is to be directed. With them are also Princess Fontaine, engaged to Crown Prince Eric, the wizard's wife Koria and a small contingent of soldiers they came across along their escape route. Not much when it comes to resistance, especially when Eric turns out to be very rush - not to say stupid - and Brandel, the second prince, only thinks about his own physical pleasures. Then there is Mark, the youngest prince who's more into books and magic. But that will certainly not be enough, as it becomes clearer and clearer that the usurper king Parokkan is ruled by his beautiful wife, Amarino - a woman whose magical abilities already are quite astonishing, and still growing stronger day by day.

As you can see, this is a traditional middle-of-the-road fantasy series. There are two mighty wizards - one good, one evil. There is a noble young hero to identify with. There is a red-headed, strong-minded princess reminding me more than a little bit of a certain Ce'Nedra of Eddings' Belgariad. There is a prophecy that seems to apply to the current situation, but it is of course vague, giving no real help when they're to choose a course of action. Several other characters and situations in the book also seem remarkably familiar, but it's not like Jonathan Wylie has made a carbon copy of any other fantasy series I've read. They are just following the guide lines: "How to compose a best-selling fantasy trilogy". As it's out of print at least in the U.S., I guess it didn't sell that well, though.

I must comment on something that bugged me with this book. Just a detail, but sometimes it's the details that spoil the reading. Wittgenstein once said something like "If a lion could speak, we wouldn't understand it", proposing that its thoughts would be so entirely different from a human's that they would be incomprehensible even when put in human words. Mark has got this cat, Longfur, with whom he communicates telepathically. Nothing wrong with that really. Telepathic connections with animals do, when used the right way, add a little spice to the story. But the cats I know are strange and unpredictable creatures, whose thoughts move in mysterious ways. This Longfur thinks just like a human, his insights could've been given by Brandel instead. It just ain't right, that's what I think.

The overall impression is that it's not badly done, but neither is it the kind of book you'll remember for a long, long time. The writing isn't in any way spectacular, but it's an easy read and I think those who enjoy the works of David Eddings will like this one too.

Karl Henriksson

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Henriksson & Henriksson 1997.