A sprawling adventure about a daunting quest offers an astrological twist.
In this first volume of a projected fantasy series, debut author Hetherhouse introduces Ser Gruffydd of the Green, a young man raised as a goatherd before attending a prestigious academy for knights. Gruff lives in what seems to be a distant future returned to feudal times. Plastic is a fading memory; a small, elite group hoards the wealth while peasants starve; and everyone lives in fear of a far-off threat known only as the snow savages. When Gruff displeases the king by besting the prince in a tournament, he is sent away from the kingdom on an impossible mission: travel across the frozen wilderness to the maybe-mythical land of Brightstone and bring back the Son of God, a mysterious deity rumored to live there. Gruff thinks that, in some ways, he’s lucky (“The harshness of a goatherd’s life has prepared me for the wilderness in a way that nothing else could have: the butchery of animals, the preparation of forage, the building of shelters and tolerance to the cold were all things that I didn’t need to learn”). The following story stretches over more than 450 pages, packed with the familiar trappings of epic fantasy: a joking sidekick, close calls with menacing strangers, and a golden city with a dark secret. Hetherhouse’s writing is often grandiose, as when Gruff states without irony: “Until these heavy legs can lift these bloodied feet no more, I shall continue to put one in front of the other.” It’s no coincidence that Gruff mirrors the goats he herds; the depiction of the stubborn, pragmatic hero hews exactly to the astrological stereotypes of the Capricorn sign. Though Gruff’s stony fortitude and utter lack of humor border on caricature, Hetherhouse’s clever astrological conceit effectively frames the story. Questions of how human personality forms and changes loom large, and Gruff’s struggles to reconcile his rigid moral code with the religious fanaticism he encounters and the basic necessities of survival are the book’s most enticing facets. “A tribe will always refer to their neighbours as savages,” Gruff reflects. “They will always mythologise and fear the great unknown.” Such attention to philosophical nuance adds depth to this otherwise standard tale.
A lively, if often generic, novel about a hero who’s a Capricorn; fantasy fans should be eager for Volume 2.