The Drowning Land — A novel
It is a 29-Chapter volume that intermixes knowledgeable history of the middle to late of the era known as the Stone-Age which comprised of the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods and in which this romantic drama, or is it a dramatic romance? is set, to the modern day fantasy writing and phraseology of many other authors.
The DROWNING LAND is a story that involves the loss of the land which once joined what we know as the United Kingdom to the land known as France, when the sea raged and rose over what is known to this world as the Doggerland.
It is a tale of the tribes of various races, often in conflict with each other, mainly over the hunting areas, as food is the predominant requirement for survival. All tribes in the Stone-Age would have been nomadic, following the food. The Tribe of which the main male protagonist is a member, a young man well down in the hierarchy and known as 'the Fisher', has favoured places they like to return to according to the season, known as their Winter Land and the Summer Land.
Each sojourn on the annual migration route offers its own kind of dangers, wild animals also on the hunt, other tribes wanting the hunting area for themselves, drought, flooding, all and more present the Tribe with jeopardy and instability. With the sea rising and advancing, devouring the land and leaving it drowned and lost beneath its salty licks, the hunting areas are being compressed and food is more difficult to come by, thus the Tribe has to move on and onward at a rate faster than previous years.
It is on one of these tarriances that Edan, the Fisher, comes across a wild tribe with a Troll prisoner. The Troll is a female, later discovered to have the name Tara, who is constantly screaming at the Tribe in a language none can understand. Circumstances occur and Tara and Edan begin an, at first, uneasy bonding. For the reader's sake Tara remarkably quickly learns how to speak the language of Edan, as without the communication between them the story couldn't have been told.
The DROWNING LAND meanders at speed through the thoughts and visions of Edan and Tara, touching briefly on other characters and their partners but never devolving enough background on them to allow the reader to see them as other than subsidiary characters there to provide some substance to the upbringing of the two main characters.
The story soon evolves into a hunt/chase, with Tara and Edan managing to stay just one jump, often literally, ahead of the following Tribal leaders. The action is tense and dramatic and fairly regular. Each time Tara and Edan find space and time to take a breather someone or something moves them on again. It is not just men and animals but also the Fomor, a supernatural race from Celtic mythology; rulers of the sea and considered to be the cause and reason for the sea's rising.
At times I found some of the descriptive text to be padding rather than necessary, but overall Mr Donachie has created a fast moving fantasy adventure filled with folklore narrative.
Throughout the tale the two characters, Tara and Edan, each open up their thoughts to the reader, saying what they think of each other, the differences and similarities in the cultures, their lives prior to meeting each other. This is a slow-burning tale that begins with an unexpected alliance as Edan makes his first stand, and continues as a unique friendship forms and cultivates.
Their love grows slowly, there is no 'love at first sight' and no sudden passionate embrace. It is a slow compassionate, thoughtful melding of minds before bodies, a discovery that interracial differences and conflicts can be overcome by seeing things from different sides of the coin and taking time to see, understand and defy the bigotry and hatred from all sides because someone or something has skin of another colour or visual looks that have been inbred into people from a very young age to be in some way evil and bad.
The final chapter, #29, took me my surprise, as it leaves the reader to truly understand its significance to the tale that has gone before it.
There is no epilogue as such but there are a few headed research notations from the author to offer his reasons and explanations of the story's setting, timeline, etc.
From my understanding. there is no accepted factual knowledge of the way people, in the days in which this tale is set, some 8000 years ago, truly lived and communicated. Historians, Paleontologists and Scientists of other sciences have determined to their satisfaction (not necessarily agreed upon by them all) that Cave Drawings and similar artistry drawn into the ground with a stick were means of people communicating. These Mesolithic people had vocal chords and no doubt used them, but did they name each other anything other than ugg followed by pointing at the person referred to?
So to read and enjoy this novel you must suspend anything you may have read or seen about this ancient time and accept that Stone-Age folk did speak and name things in a similar way to that which is now accepted by readers of fantasy fiction: Trolls, the Old Ones, the Stone Forest, the Great Wood, Deer Woods. Elk, Eagle, Bear, Fish, Blackbird, Sparrow, Rabbit etc. These names are used to allow the reader to envisage the lands, to see through the eyes of the characters without having to physically describe each encounter. It is highly unlikely that any of these words were known in those days. The same way the word 'tradition' is often used by the Tribes, but it isn't a word they would have used or understood.
As a games reviewer I am probably not the most qualified person to give my opinion on a fantasy book, and indeed although most of my reading is fantasy it is of the modern day crime and detective fantasy than the high fantasy of Tolkien and Salvatore etc.
I read the book through in two sessions and enjoyed its pace and balance. I am personally not keen on any story that gives characters unusual or unpronouncable names as I tend to forget who is being referred back to as the characters communicate with each other about other people nearer the beginning pages and no longer relevant. Calling tribe members Hunter One, Fisher Two etc also only serves to confuse, for at some time they are referred to by name rather than profession/title, and my ability to remember which name goes with what occupation makes it tougher for me, personally.
Overall though I enjoyed the story. The writing is that of someone starting out as a novellist who has yet to learn how to define their way of telling the tale without over-egging each paragraph and chapter. This only means there are, in my opinion, too many words that are of no consequence, and that without them the narrative would have been even sharper, allowing the adventure to move along at an even rather than cobbled pace. I also think, and again only personal opinion, that perhaps a touch of wit in places would have humanised the characters just that little bit more. As they at present, for me, come across as 2½ Dimensional instead of 3D.
My own way of judging any book is to ask myself this question "Would I read another book by this author?" and in this case the answer is "Yes. I would have no trouble reading another novel by David M. Donachie".