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CURSE OF GARNEL IRONHEART
A ragtag band of individuals of various backgrounds, genders and even diverse species, is drawn together to retrieve some mysterious and magical items from the far corners of Paskanah. What these items are for and why these unusual adventurers should join forces to seek them out, is more a matter of circumstance and manipulation than any choice of their own. As we are introduced to the band we come to realize that each has his, or her own storied past, not least of which is the diminutive Qiliv Don- Zee, whose dwarflike people are universally despised for reasons that are obscure at first, but will ultimately be revealed when we discover the true nature of “the curse of Garnel Ironheart”. Comprised of warriors, sorcerers, a professional thief, and the aforementioned Don-Zee -whose many talents are not at first apparent- this is indeed an unusual group, but one that proves to be both formidable and resourceful as they gradually evolve into a unified fighting force.
The group must overcome ghosts, ogres, vampires, and a host of other evil creatures in their travels and gradually they come to piece together an evil plot that they may have unwittingly assisted during their earlier exploits. Now they must really step up if they are to undo the damage they have done, as the armies of the undead are on the rise and are sweeping across the land; and the penultimate battle between good and evil is on. The odds seem hopeless but our heroes may just be able to tip the scales with their combined skills, courage, and determination.
Lovers of sci-fi and fantasy novels will recognize many of the themes, and indeed many similar characters to other offerings here. But to his credit, first time author Michael J. Schweitzer freely acknowledges his influences, and manages to put some unique spin on the different races of man. Though a doctor now, the author also credits much of the development of this book to his time as a Dungeon master, creating and role-playing in a fictitious D&D realm of his own design (you guessed it) Paskanah. Replete with maps and a diverse population of varied creatures too numerous to mention here, I believe that perhaps this pre-knowledge of the landscape, if you will, adds to the ease with which the author navigates this realm and renders it plausible by drawing us into his creation. Now that being said, there is a potential problem here for some. If you are not among the fans of the JRR Tolkien styled background story (yes there are some who find Tolkien on the wordy side) you may find the descriptions and back-stories here a bit much. I for one am appreciative of this style, and as long as it doesn’t detract from the fantasy and helps me to empathise more with the characters, I’m all for it. Now just so I don’t mislead you here, I’m not suggesting that this is on the same level as Tolkien's work, but thematically and style wise, I wouldn’t be too far off to suggest it’s an homage of sorts to the Grand daddy of all Fantasy saga’s, The Lord of the Rings.
All in all an enjoyable read, although I was only gradually drawn into the tale at first, I soon found that I was eager to find out what happened next. Perhaps I would have enjoyed a bit more swordplay but then again there are two more books in the series yet to come, so who knows?
The Ashes of Alladag
This one is also from that wonderful website, www.yetanotherbookreview.com
THE ASHES OF
For a first novel, I was impressed with Michael J. Schweitzer’s The Curse of Garnel Ironheart. In the second book of the trilogy, he has picked up the trail of his heroic warriors, magicians and yes, even the odd misfit with a Canadian accent.
In The Ashes of Alladag we return to the realm of Paskanah some ten years later, where a relative peace still reigns. We find that Oa-neth after returning her beloved Don-zee’s body to his people, had remained among the Qulivs to compose herself and benefit from their teachings. Now, she has returned to the great temple of Buleenion Carandelothion to resume her studies among her Grinuaolli brethren - with the blessing of the holy master that is. Perhaps not everything is quite as it seems in the idyllic world of the Grinuaolli however (think elves, beautiful, artistic, long lived and wise, then add some with attitude, arrogance and some decidedly separatist leanings). On the far side of the realm, a mysterious power hungry stranger has unleashed a ferocious new enemy from the astral realm, the likes of which have never been seen before in Paskanah.
Donal Quickhands is back too. He became invaluable to the cause in the first book, if not a tad annoying at times eh? As so often happens with idle heroes however, the aptly named thief has succumbed to some self-destructive habits. Indeed, if not for his eager new “assistant” Nitzi Silentstalk, he might not even still be alive. Returning to Tzuba on a new mission, his old friend -and now successful Imperial General - Khazav Bloodblade, decides to save Donal Quickhands from himself, and despite some initial misgivings, brings him along in hopes that he can both save him and hopefully do it in time to put him to work for some high level espionage. Once we catch up with the wizard Ritchar Grussilivri, the mission is on and although it seems simple enough at the outset, it soon becomes apparent that the stage has been set for a far more dangerous and ominous quest. And for anyone concerned about lady Arian Goldforger, fear not, she is back in all her amazonian glory and lord Ziza Ze’id is set to take on a whole new role as well. I was surprised that Don-Zee or at least one of the Quliv race did not return. The hero of the first book and one of the more original species introduced, died at the climax of the “The Curse”, but although his fellow Qilivs still exist, none were included in the action here. (Given all the magic liberally doused throughout, I half expected him to be conjured up from the dead somehow but oh well, maybe in the next one.
Schweitzer, has managed the transition to this new adventure rather well by building on the solid foundation laid by his first book. He brings everything ten years forward in time and manages to start fresh with his characters and situations. This time around, the story and cast take shape and things unfold just that little bit more effortlessly...not all that unusual in second books I suppose...but I appreciated the difference. That being said, I did have a minor complaint about the primers on the first book that seemed to keep popping up; you know, little explanations scattered about, so that anyone starting at book two would know the characters back stories etc. Although I certainly understand the reasoning behind these, I found that they were a bit lengthy for someone who just finished the first book and is anxious to get on with the adventure. At any rate it doesn’t take long before the action heats up and I soon found myself caught up in some pretty heady battles and fascinated by the new “uber enemy” hordes. The “Vozhan Bur” were simply brilliant, I won’t spoil it, but they make most other evil warrior types you read about sound like pansies. I had no problem picturing these formidable foes in my minds eye.
A fun read! At times the tension was palatable and I found myself reading faster to see how the cast could possibly extricate themselves from some tricky situation or other. Great characters, loathsome enemies and action, what more could you ask for from a fantasy adventure?
Michael J. Schweitzer
The Vozhan Bur, perhaps the most formidable foe to have ever threatened the empire of Paskanah, have been routed. The source of the sinister drug Zivil has been discovered and destroyed by our intrepid band of heroes, and peace reigns once again in the kingdom. The newly weds, Donal and Nitzi, are now expecting a baby, and just when it appears the greatest threat of all is that Arian might go mad for lack of mortal combat, a messenger arrives from the Emperor. It seems our heroes have been invited to the royal palace at Imperius at great lake, to be honoured for their efforts on behalf of the empire. En route to the capital the peacefully rebuilding countryside begins to look somewhat less than idyllic as a mysterious plague of unknown origin has ravaged many of the villages they pass. The affliction, as it’s come to be known, is as quick as it is deadly, and a huge seemingly random portion of the population has already been wiped out. Despite the devastation there is nothing to be done, and the group pushes on to their audience with the Emperor. A brief visit to the Fouran forest provides Donal the opportunity to look up his estranged wife and son Reginard; having last seen them when he was hopelessly addicted to shrum, he has no idea what to expect.
One gets the sense that something is about to happen, but what that might be is unclear. They traveled to the capitol expecting a tribute, but soon after their arrival everything is catapulted into turmoil under the overwhelming assault of a totally unforeseen, but not entirely unfamiliar foe. After a thousand years of imperial rule the empire is swept away almost overnight, and the kingdom is overrun with the undead. After a harrowing escape from Imperius at great lake, our heroes attempt to retreat to the Qilivish domain at Arnodon. Perhaps there they can gather enough survivors to make a stand, but a perilous journey lies before them, and even if they do get there it won’t be without sacrifice. And through it all, no one seems to know what has become of she who is perhaps there greatest hope, Oaneth!
A great battle is shaping up at Arnodon, as the remnants of the once great empire unite with some rather unlikely allies, against the seemingly unstoppable forces of the undead. Everyone must choose a side in this fight, there can be no middle ground and once the battle lines are drawn, there is no looking back. Of course, while all this is taking place, the ultimate confrontation between Good and Evil is looming, as Valcor the dark lord of the undead, is desperately seeking to cross over from the the astral realm and claim total dominion over the world. Oaneth, with the help of her companions seeks to stop him, but along the way she must confront her own personal demons, as her own growing power seeks to corrupt her.
This is the third and final book in the Unending War Trilogy and it certainly has lived up to its billing: as each individual book has presented a complete campaign of war all onto itself. And each time you think it is all over and good has triumphed once and for all, evil yet again finds a way to come back and threaten the peace. Throughout it, all our heroes have been confronted by a surprisingly inventive selection of evildoers, manifesting themselves in often cunning and unexpected ways. The original characters, simple at first, were developed over the course of the trilogy, maturing and evolving as the tales unfolded. When some were lost in the cause, others were introduced to take up the banner. I found that the writing grew increasingly refined as the tale went on and I have to compliment the author as he has surpassed himself in bringing the story to a truly epic and somewhat surprising conclusion.
All in all, a fun read that I would gladly
recommend to lovers of fantasy, warfare and magic.
“The Ashes of Alladag:” A Kosher Answer to Narnia
By Dodi-Lee Hecht, editor, Nishma Junior. www.nishma.org
From when I was a child, Shabbos afternoons have always meant one thing to me: a time to read the latest book that I had gotten my hands on. I read everything from Chassidic tales to Harry Potter, and everything in between. Except there was one problem, there was nothing in between. Jewish stories, while philosophically enlightening, lacked the exhilarating plots of Fantasy. Conversely, Fantasy and Science fiction, while thrilling and fascinating to read, offered very few life-lessons for those of us who believe in Sinai; Christian ideals, whether deliberately (see C.S. Lewis) or coincidently, are usually the cornerstones of the great sword-wielding-damsel-rescuing-magic-making adventures. I often wondered what it would be like to read a Sci-fi/Fantasy novel whose underlying themes parallel ideas in Jewish ideology instead of Christian ideology. The very idea of such a thing always seemed beyond the bounds of imagination. Then I read “The Ashes of Alladag.” It seems there’s a Jewish doctor in Hamilton, Ontario whose imagination doesn’t have these limitations. He has already released two volumes of his “Unending War” trilogy and the conclusion is due out in November.
“Alladag,” the second volume of the trilogy, is an exciting adventure that returns the reader to the fictional land of Paskanah and the tumultuous lives of her inhabitants. Like most fantasy worlds, Paskanah has its fair share of magical creatures, powerful rulers, unusual species and courageous warriors. However, unlike other fantasy worlds, Paskanah does not contain idolatry; the various races in Paskanah, while celebrating their different ancestors, only worship a monotheistic deity, who just happens to bear a striking resemblance to Hashem. Still, for the author, Dr. Michael Schweitzer, a medical doctor by profession and an Orthodox Jew, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. From his subtle employment of Hebrew (pay attention to the magic spells) to his more serious thematic leanings, Schweitzer has probably produced the most Jewish oriented story not to have a Jew in it since The Story of Creation.
“Alladag” is set fifteen years after the events of the first book, “The Curse of Garnel Ironheart.” (Don’t worry if you haven’t read that one – at the beginning of “Alladag” there is a two-page synopsis of it.) While any sequel runs the risk of just being a redundant regurgitation of its predecessor, Schweitzer sidesteps this quite nicely by focusing on the effects of the passage of time. In fifteen years a lot can happen, but, more importantly, a lot that should have happened tends not to happen. Schweitzer embraces this eventuality and re-introduces his characters with a whole new set of regrets and accomplishments. The result is the same band of characters that the reader learned to love in “Ironheart” with more room to investigate their philosophical and existential dilemmas.
Furthermore, whereas “Ironheart” leaned towards a more humorous tone, “Alladag” presents itself in a more human light. The banter that one would engage in with new acquaintances is replaced by a warmer tone that one usually reserves for old friends. “Alladag” spends little time setting up the characters and the plot – the mystery unfolds at a steady pace but the action is full- throttle from the opening scenes – and, instead, is filled with moments of theological discussions and parables. Also, Schweitzer’s writing style has matured from “Ironheart” to “Alladag” which gives the latter novel a smoother technical flavour. All this adds up to an amazingly great read that not only keeps you turning to the next page to see what happens next but, often you’ll find yourself turning to the previous pages to reflect and reconsider a passage that has suddenly caught your attention. But wait, there’s more.
Buried among the exceptionally well-written story of “Alladag” are numerous references to Jewish philosophy. The struggles of the main characters serve as metaphors to the great questions that have plagued Jewish thinkers throughout history. How much should Jews interact with the outside world? How do we confront the concept of “wisdom among the nations” and where do we draw the line? What is the proper way to repent? When is repentance possible? What is the role of happiness in a Jew’s life and how important should the pursuit of happiness be?
Bottom line? “Alladag” is not your average fantasy novel; “Alladag” is not your average Jewish novel. This is a whole new breed of book and it’s going to totally change the way Jewish kids do Shabbos afternoons.
“The Ashes of Alladag” is available in Chapter outlets and small Sci-fi/Fantasy book stores throughout Canada or online at Chapters.ca and Amazon.com.
The Curse of Garnel Ironheart's first review, and she liked the book. Read on!
The Curse of Garnel Ironheart: The Unending War Trilogy, Book One, by Michael J. Schweitzer. Hamilton, Manor House Publishing Inc, 2003. $26.95
Reviewed by Susan Merskey. Reprinted with permission. Published in the London Community Jewish News, May, 2004
Six ill-assorted individuals, each representing a different order of beings, are ordered to retrieve three vital items supposedly belonging to the Empire. Don-zee, Khazav and Ritchar are commanded to find a staff from the mysterious Keep of Corelia. Arian, Oa-nath and Donal, must retrieve a small ruby from an abandoned mansion. Only when they have succeeded in these tasks is each group told that they must now go in search of the last item, the stone crown into which the ruby fits. When their paths cross en route, they join forces in this final quest.
Throughout their journeys, the six continually fight ghosts, ogres, vampires and the other creatures in their efforts to retrieve the required items. Time and again they find themselves pawns in a complicated but ultimately simple game. But what is the Curse of Garnel Ironheart which haunts Don-zee from the outset and can it ever be broken? And how? These questions keep readers in suspense to the very end of the book.
In his preface, author Michael Schweitzer describes how his story initially grew out of the realm of the fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons. I personally know nothing of the game, and little more of fantasy literature, and wondered if this would put me at a disadvantage in reading the book. But I found that the book can be read on many levels and the story itself drew me inexorably on in the quest to see if and how good would triumph over evil. There is a strong Jewish presence in many elements of the book, while the magic languages spoken by the various groups clearly show the influence of French, Spanish, German and Hebrew.
The book is a true page turner, demanding to be read, if not at a single sitting, then in substantial installments. This certainly makes it easier to follow the many layers of the story, especially in the earlier chapters when the two groups are traveling separately. But more importantly, once started, the book is simply hard to put down. One minor quibble: a slightly more compact, if thicker, book format and a larger size typeface would make the reading very much easier.
The Curse of Garnel Ironheart is a first novel by someone whose ‘day job’ is as a busy family doctor. It is billed as the first of a trilogy. The author has set a very high standard for himself and I look forward to the other two books in the series.
I found this on the Web. It's the first independent feedback I've found!
And a second review, this one from the Yeshiva University Observer (September 2004 issue). You know what they say about New York. If you can make it there...
Lord of the Rings finds its Yiddishe Neshama
Writer Uses Fantasy to Subtly Tackle Jewish Issues.
By Dodi-Lee Hecht
In November 2003, the already healthily stocked shelves of the science fiction and fantasy sections of libraries and bookstores in Ontario, Canada gracefully squeezed together to make room for one more addition. The Curse of Garnel Ironheart is the debut novel of Dr. Michael J. Schweitzer and the first in an exciting and original fantasy trilogy. At first glace, however, the uniqueness of this book can easily been lost among the surge of post-Harry Potter mania, which has seemingly overwhelmed the fantasy genre in the past few years. Schweitzer downplays his special contribution to the genre by crediting his teenage days of playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) as the main inspiration for this and future novels. Schweitzer defines his goal audience as primarily current and former D&D players (although he did add that he tried to "make the storyline general enough as to appeal to anyone who enjoys a good story.")
Truth be told, The Curse of Garnel Ironheart is much more than a "good story"; it is a piece of writing which is filled with metaphors of major Jewish themes, both theological and cultural-political, successfully couched in a complex and self-contained fictional world. Schweitzer, an Orthodox Jew and active member of the Hamilton Jewish Community, readily acknowledged his conscious placement of such important issues but stressed that he refused to make the themes too obvious. He would prefer that his readers, after completion of his book, be forced to "sit back and think 'Okay, how does that apply to us?'"
There is quite a lot to think about. As previously mentioned, the idea for the world of Paskanah, the mythical setting of the trilogy, dates back to Schweitzer's youth, so his story contains hints of what puzzled him as a child. One piece of Jewish history that he said really affected him at that time was the fact that the Zionists in Israel during World War II debated whether to help the Jews of Europe emigrate or concentrate their efforts to develop their own country. As a teenager, Schweitzer found the nature of this debate shocking and quickly incorporated it into the history of Paskanah. One of the main characters of the book, Don-zee, plays a member of the universally persecuted race of Qilivs (the similar to the Hebrew word for "dog" is intentional) forced to confront the fact that some of his people have found shelter in one of their ancient homelands, Arnodon, but have not opened the doors for the rest of their race. "Don-zee doesn't even know about Arnodon and he's from it, his ancestors are buried there," emphasized Schweitzer.
Even more impressive than his cleverly placed historical allusions are Schweitzer's subtle attempts to address philosophical issues, which have since occupied his thoughts. In this first book, he tackles the issue of sinas chinam, senseless hatred, which is cited in the Talmud as the reason for the Second Temple's destruction. "Every day we pray for the rebuilding of the Bais HaMikdash [the Temple]," exclaimed Schweitzer, "but if you look at society today, there is more sinas chinam that ever." To maintain his rule about "not beating people over the head" with a message, Schweitzer cleverly used the selfish xenophobia of the Qilivs sd reminiscent of the sinas chinam of today. His conclusion of how the Qilivs repent, he believes, parallels the way we should repent today.
Schweitzer also introduces a character in his first book, Oa-neth, who undergoes a crisis of faith. Schweitzer explained that the final book in this triology will focus on this issue completely, but Oa-neth's doubts provide a chance to being the analysis. Regarding the primary religious question of "why do bad things happen to good people", Schweitzer borrowed heavily from his learning of the Rav Moshe Chaim Luzatto (a Jewish philosopher). One particular passage in The Curse of Garnel Ironheart outlines Luzatto's understanding that evil must exist to emphasize good. Schweitzer again, adhering to his rule of subtlety, said that the passage's allusions could be missed if the reader isn't careful. Regardless, Schweitzer promised that this dilemma will be studied much further in the third book.
Besides the more in-depth references to Jewish themes, Schweitzer also included little details to alert his readers to his own background. The story is riddled with Hebrew puns ranging from the names of certain races to the name of one main character, Khazav, which in Hebrew means "deception". Schweitzer recounted that this little innuendo led one reader to be on the lookout for the character's secret.
In adherence to Jewish Law, Schweitzer made all of his characters monotheists although he did introduce certain semi-deified elders, which he compared to the role of Jesus in Christianity. Yet, despite the religious proclivities of his characters and, as a final courtesy to his Jewish readers, The Curse of Garnel Ironheart does not contain the actual word "God". Schweitzer did so so the book could be taken anywhere.
The Curse of Garnel Ironheart is available internationally on Amazon.com. The next installment of the trilogy is due out later this year. For more information on the book or its author, check out garnelironheart.com
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