David Anthony Durham’s last book, Pride of Carthage, was a fictional retelling of Hannibal’s attempt to take over Rome; Acacia, Book One: The War With the Mein, is his first series set in the fantasy realm. While the title suggests an African world with African magic and people, this is sadly not the case. Nevertheless, the Known World is one in which magic has not existed for some time, while mythology, legend and old ignored gods are very much in everyone’s minds. Acacia at first seems to borrow a little too much from the likes of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, but then establishes itself halfway through and becomes its own story.
The Akaran Dynasty rules over the Known World from the island of Acacia. The Acacia tree is the symbol of the dynasty, with its many branches and strong curling roots, it shows the power and control of the Akarans. The dynasty is ruled by King Leodan who to all outward appearances is a strong and just king, but behind closed doors is a befuddled “mist” addict. This unique drug is supplied by a distant race that, in return for the annual supply of this drug, requires a number of child slaves. This unknown, despicable trade has gone on for generations and while Leodan disagrees with it wholeheartedly, he is a weak king and unable to do anything. This is a society where the past hangs over the present like a domineering father, making sure everything is done just as it has always been, regardless of moral questioning.
King Leodan has four children: two boys – Aliver, the apparent heir, and Dariel, the youngest; and two girls – Corinn, the beautiful older sister who looks to be a useful bargaining chip for forming alliances, and Mena, the quiet and younger sister who shows the most promise from the reader’s point of view in breaking away from the imprisoning bonds of the Akaran Dynasty. Then there are the Mein: a race who were exiled generations ago to the far north for fighting again the Akarans, and it is here that the seed of revenge and need to overthrow the Akarans has grown for generations. Hanish Mein, the current leader has set plans into motion: an assassin sent south to kill Leodan; an unknown people summoned from the north, the Numreks, who are giants with giant beasts to overthrow the Akarans once and for all.
Acacia takes a little while to get going, but once the story is established, all of a sudden plans spring into action. Soon King Leodan is dead and the children have fled, exiled to different corners of the Known World to hide, while the Mein and Numreks take over and become the new rulers. With all hope seemingly lost, it is now up to the four children to somehow unite behind a strong army and cast out the Mein once and for all. And the only way this will be possible is by calling on the gods and magic, the legends and mythology from the past and using them to their advantage.
Durham’s world of Acacia is a unique one with many facets that have been seen in fantasy before, but also with many facets that have not. While the first book in the series is a seemingly obvious one where the ruling “good” dynasty is overthrown by the “evil” one and then must fight back and retake the throne, the book is a good foundation for a series that, in the future, will become more popular.
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Originally written on August 9th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.