A war for succession consumes an imaginative fantasy world in Beas’ extremely entertaining debut novel.
King Aerostat II has two sons: the vain, narcissistic elder one, Gorgan, and his kindhearted younger brother, Alexander. Although tradition would dictate that the throne should go to Gorgan after Aerostat’s death, the old man decides to give his kingdom to Alexander. Just as Aerostatis about to make the announcement, however, the dark Lord of the Shadows, Kavardas, assassinates him, facilitating Gorgan’s rise to power and setting off a civil war between Gorgan and Alexander. While this may seem a familiar plot to fantasy fans, Beas’ novel distinguishes itself with elements as unusual as they are imaginative. One of its appealing and unique elements is the magical board game Strump, which is inextricably, mystically linked to the makeup of the actual kingdom. In order for the king or lesser leaders to rule, they must wield certain game pieces, each represented by a letter in the acronym STRUMP—S for strength, T for truth, R for righteousness, U for unity, M for malice and P for power. The type of ruler depends on the pieces he uses. Meanwhile, the kingdom is populated not only with humans but with magical figures such as pixies, mermen and brainy animals, some of the most prominent being mice—some are wizards, others are warriors—which Beas treats with only the hint of a wink. From start to finish, the novel is an immensely fun read and a wonderful throwback to fantasy classics. Perhaps one drawback, though: Whereas many contemporary fantasy novels feature morally ambiguous, complex characters, this novel’s universe is more straightforwardly black and white, good vs. evil. Nevertheless, the nostalgic vibe is balanced by sheer invention, strong prose, and a great deal of cleverness and wit.
Doesn’t quite reach classic status but captures many of the genre’s most enjoyable aspects while flowering with a fertile imagination.