The Scroll of Years (Gaunt and Bone #1) by Chris Willrich
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Release date: September 24 2013
Source: ARC from publisher
In a word: A unique magical world where East meets West, a poetic writing style that works well with the folklore-ish tale, and dragons!
Persimmon Gaunt was even paler, but she was near to bursting with a barbarian baby-to-come. Her frame spoke of action and theft and generosity and narrow escapes. Her eyes spoke of tombs and flowers and elegies and inevitable decay. Her voice spoke of all these things and the glimmer of a silver thread that bound them.
The Scroll of Years is the first book in a series, but it’s not the first time the main characters have been through adventures together. Willrich introduced the characters of Gaunt and Bone in a series of short stories that have appeared in various publications over the past twelve years or so, and now they have their own full-scale novel. Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone are lovers expecting their first child, but they aren’t married. That in itself is an unusual set-up for any story, but add in the fact that Bone is a thief and both of them are on the run from assassins, and you have a first-rate adventure story.
Gaunt and Bone are trying their best to settle down and start their family, but as luck would have it, someone is trying to kill them. So begins their race to stay one step ahead of the Night Auditors, two assassins who will do anything to get a hold of their unborn child. With the intention of hiding until her baby is born, Gaunt escapes into a magical scroll, and for much of the rest of the story, Gaunt and Bone are separated. With the help of some scrappy bandits, Gaunt and Bone must try to evade capture and figure out a way to bring their little family back together, but the odds don’t look good…
Within the story are even more stories, as some of the characters use folklore and myth to explain things. As Gaunt and Bone run from the assassins, they make their way to the East and hide in an Oriental-like village called Abundant Bamboo. I loved the exotic feel of these scenes, especially the characters’ evocative names, like Lightning Bug, Next-One-A-Boy and Walking Stick. One “story within a story” involves a painter named Meteor-Plum and how he came to paint a scroll with magical properties called “A Tumult of Trees on Peculiar Peaks.” Just reading these unfamiliar yet entertaining names made me smile and reminded me that I left the normal world behind when I opened the pages of this book.
Willrich’s writing style really sets this story apart from other fantasies. His formal and almost old-fashioned prose is hard to get used to at first, but once you get into the story it’s difficult to imagine it written any other way. His descriptions of the landscape and the strange places the characters find themselves in are told in dreamy and lyrical prose. The Scroll of Years wasn’t a quick read for me, as I did struggle a bit with the writing in the beginning. But I found it a nice change to take my time reading this book and savor the language and the leisurely development of the plot. The story isn’t slow by any means, and in fact there are several places where the action rushes from one breathless scene to the next. But Willrich manages to trip up his characters, who are simply trying to stay alive, by throwing them into increasingly dire situations. By the end of the story you will be breathless too, as the stakes get higher and the danger escalates.
I loved the characters of Gaunt and Bone, and reading this book makes me want to go back and read all their short stories. Willrich keeps them apart for much of the story, but even then you can feel the palpable love they have for each other and their unborn child. As a mother myself I especially appreciated the passages where Gaunt reflects on what it means to be a parent, and I thought these scenes were a nice drop of realism in an otherwise fantastical world.
Some other characters that stood out for me were the young bandits Next One and Flybait, who have their own adventure that parallels that of Gaunt and Bone. I also loved Walking Stick and Lightning Bug, two characters who seem to be in love but can’t do anything about it, since Lightning Bug is already married. They were especially interesting because they follow different philosophies of living and are basically at odds with each other.
And have I mentioned the dragons yet? Well, there are dragons in this book, and they are most unusual. A dragon named Kindlekarn plays a big part in Gaunt and Bone’s escape from the assassins. I won’t give away all the details of Willrich’s dragons, but I will tell you they are made of metal and precious stones and sometimes become mountains if they settle too for long.
I’ll admit to tearing up at the end—it was very emotional! Willrich gives us just enough of a cliffhanger to make us anxious for the follow-up to The Scroll of Years, The Silk Map (out next May). My only quibble is with the cover, which shows a NOT pregnant Gaunt in a get-up better suited for a video game babe. Even if this scene happens after she gives birth, trust me, no woman would ever want to show a post-pregnancy stomach by wearing an outfit like that!
Nonetheless, The Scroll of Years is highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
You can find The Scroll of Years here: