Ross Lawhead’s first fantasy novel hit the bookshelves in September. You may recognize Ross’ last name – he is the son of best-selling fantasy author Stephen Lawhead. When I first found out Ross was writing his own fantasy series I was both excited (in the cautiously optimistic sense) and nervous (in the nervous sense). You see, Ross is a friend of mine.
We were both attending a writer’s retreat in the Texas Hill Country last year and we bonded over chicken fried steak. We casually discussed comic book collecting, the state of science fiction and the weight of being the son of Stephen Lawhead, and that’s when I first learned about his Ancient Earth Trilogy.
I was impressed when I learned how Ross earned his publishing deal. He worked his way into a book deal through persistence and creativity rather than his father’s name. In the teetering world of publishing, who you know no longer gets you very far. Ross had to earn his own spurs, and it took him ten years, a lot of rejection, and a dozen part-time jobs to make it happen. Ross also understands that good writing is disciplined inspiration. Most importantly, he did not want to ride his father’s coattails. Ross is his own man and that impresses me. After steady persistence he earned a book deal through his own merits. So what is that book like?
The Realms Thereunder is the first book in his trilogy. First, I am a sucker for mystical portals. Trans-dimensional gateways, secret entrances, and other-worldy thresholds draw me like a nerd to Star Wars. The Realms Thereunder is full of hidden doorways to fantastic worlds. Here’s one of my favorite passages:
“When the time, place and person are all in an efenheort,” Swidgar continued as he walked, like a teacher giving a lesson, “which is sort of unstable harmony- then fantastic things can happen. One must be careful when one finds oneself at a place between place, say a beach or a crossroads, during either dawn or dusk. If his soul is at a spiritual crossroads, his mind lost, and his body wandering- what we might call a ‘person between persons’- then he may pass through the barriers between worlds as a pillar of smoke passes through a field of mist.”
There are a few small sections where flow of the narrative is a bit laboured especially when it comes to the wide assortment of mythical creatures he introduces in the story. However, Ross does know his Great Britain folklore and for myself, I’d rather have too many dragons, trolls and gnomes rather than not enough.
Both Lawhead’s are broad canvass story painters, creating large worlds with a careful attention to detail. But where Stephen Lawhead’s novels take a slow approach toward a building story arch, Ross’ thrusts you right into the middle of the fray. Lawhead senior allows his characters to reveal themselves in slow succession while Ross’ protagonists drop in your lap and look you in the eyes. It is cool to read both the differences and similarities.
But there is a one particular reason to grab this book for your collection. We, the lovers of sci-fi/ fantasy novels, have the rare opportunity to collect the first print novel of an author that is sure to produce years of quality, stirring and imaginative stories. One day you will tell your children, ‘I read Ross Lawhead’s first book the year it hit the shelves’. And they will say, ‘Dad, you’re such a nerd. What’s a book?’
All that said, it was an enjoyable read and I look forward to book two, A Hero’s Throne, due out in 2012. I am thrilled that another Lawhead has entered my bookshelves. I hope he writes many more novels so that he has a shelf in my office all to himself.