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Askar - Reviews

ASKAR by Bronwyn Calder  01 Feb 2008, by Anatole Sergejew

Askar is a rich and unexpected weave of stories. A common theme for fantasy novels is how the central, seemingly powerless, character can play a crucial role in the war of good prevailing against the odds over evil. At first I thought Askar was based on the same theme - the central character Jena is scarcely accepted as a junior priestess in Navron, the Sacred Isle of the kingdom of Urkan, when the isle is invaded by warriors from the rival realm of Askar and almost all the isle's inhabitants are massacred. Jena survives and is guided by the voice of the Goddess to follow the kidnapped high priestess Jocea to Askar. She sets out with the help of Zorek (the king of Urkan's heir) and his friend Galen. So is it the story I expected? No, we are told at the start that the peoples of Urkan and Askar are cousins, and although in Askar they worship the god Dread, it is the Goddess's wish to see the realms reunited, and the prophecy is that Askar will rule in Urkan. So it seems that the prophecy, and the Goddess's intention, is that evil should prevail over good. Then we find the real threat (evil?) is the invading Falhar, and that the only way Urkan and Askar can prevail against this mightier force is by reuniting. So is this book the story of the struggle to reunite Urkan and Askar in an attempt to repel the Falhar invasion? Much more. It is a love story between Jena and Zarek, although again this story follows anything but the expected line. It is the epic tale of Jena, Zarek, Galen and Ahron (the Askar king's son), fulfilling their destinies (sometimes in spite of themselves). It is a story of endurance and faith winding a precarious path through war and betrayal, where the line between good and evil is very much blurred, and where seemingly peripheral and powerless characters can play pivotal roles. A great read.

...the welcome subtlety that good includes accepting the imperfect 29 Feb 2008 

UPFRONT: This is posted by the Publisher, John Calder, passing on a review from a test reader, Annika Streefland. 

Bronwyn Calder is quite the storyteller and Askar is a great achievement. She has developed the characters beautifully. This is the sort of book one can't put down. I thought there was especially good pace and structure such as around the battles. I've been reading NZ books lately so Elizabeth Knox comes to mind as someone to compare Bronwyn to. I love Elizabeth's writing, especially in Vintners Luck. Bronwyn's is alike in the use of the unreal and the magical to draw analogies. The structures and stories are entirely different but the character development is much the same. Their characters have similar fears, insecurities, misunderstandings and regrets. Askar is about the battle of good and evil, even within the characters. This battle is depicted more in the classic sense than any overt sense. Good wins with the welcome subtlety that good includes accepting the imperfect.

Excellent Askar 6 Jan 2008 by Colin Rock

I've just finished Askar and enjoyed it immensely...even the girly stuff, heh heh. In fact Jena was a more complex character than I expected and it added great body to the story. I did think 'The Voice' could have had a slightly more detailed intro, for as a dedicated non-fantasy reader (which makes my praise more valuable, yes indeed) I was expecting to hear something about her first hearing it in childhood, being frightened etc. I liked the 'shadow' references to sorcerers etc. Probably what I enjoyed most were the little human asides. The ship's captain turning his back on battle and sewing a sail, or brief character descriptions of minor players. Yes, so much enjoyed and thanks, Bronwyn. I sense a sequel also.

Response from Bronwyn Calder(Author) and John Calder(Publisher):

Thanks Colin for your review. 'The Voice' did have a "first hearing it in childhood" passage in an earlier draft but Bron took it out because based on feedback from other test readers she wanted to get the story moving more quickly. However our latest round of test reader feedback lines up with you in suggesting a little more establishment of characters and background detail. With that we have restored that "first hearing it in childhood" passage and here it is - see the preview to get it in context

Jena first heard the Voice when she was three years old and about to retrieve the ball she had rolled into the fire in the kitchen. She reached her hand in for it and the Voice said: "No!" loudly and sharply. She jumped and pulled her hand back as if it was already burned. She looked around her and saw no one. Then the dusty old cook returned: "Wot you doing my little lady? Come away then, pet." And she knew the Voice hadn't been the cook's. As she grew up the Voice came to her more and more: "There is a visitor in the yard now", before any announcement;
"Your brother has broken his leg, send a servant to help him" when Roban had indeed been thrown from a horse and did indeed need a servant to pick him up and bring him home. After that her mother took her more seriously, so that when she announced "Lord Jevan will accept a marriage contract for Freya," her parents took action.
She sighed and leaned her head on her hands. What would she do if the Voice pronounced on matters of life and death?