The Four Realms by Adrian Faulkner

(8.8/10)

Half-vampire Darwin stumbles across a corpse on the streets of London, and in a pocket discovers a notebook in a mysterious language. Divided between human ethics and vampire bloodlust, Darwin finds himself both condemner and saviour of a race who’ve never considered him one of their own. Now, he must try and lead the survivors to sanctuary in New Salisbury before Mr West completes his genocide of the vampires in his quest to obtain the book…

Maureen Summerglass is eighty-two years old, and a prisoner in her ramshackle home. She is afraid to let people enter in case they discover the oak door in her cellar. Threatened with homelessness and retirement from her job as a gatekeeper between worlds, Maureen breaks protocol when the death of a close friend is covered up… and enters the city of New Salisbury to search for his missing notebook. There, she discovers a world unlike the one of myth and fairy tale she imagined, and instead one of black market economies, brand names and tuk tuks. As she investigates, not only is she in extreme danger, but discovers she may be the first human female able to use magic…

There is one element that, when incorporated into a fantasy novel, never fails to warm my heart. And that is ambition. Many books play it safe, walking a well-trodden path where the names have changed but much else remains the same. And this is the reason why I hold Steven Erikson's Malazan series to be the very best the genre has to offer - not just because it is so well written but because it is so wonderfully ambitious.

And that brings me to Adrian Adrian Faulkner's debut novel The Four Realms. It is a fast-paced, complex novel that takes the category "cross-genre" to a whole new level. Within can be found something that should appeal to every fantasy reader: high and contemporary fantasy, wizards, elves, trolls, worlds-within-worlds, science and vampire fiction, angels and demons… and that has not covered all. It is so ambitious and the biggest praise that I can give is in saying that a story involving so many different sub-genres could easily have resulted in being the veritable dog's dinner but the author has managed to pull it off, and with seeming ease.

It is safe to say I was impressed, so much so that I emailed the author and asked him how challenging it had been to incorporate so many different sub genres into one story. To which he replied (the full answer to this question and others will published shortly):  "If you look at a lot of Japanese manga you’ll see they are more prone to mixing genres and tropes. It happens in videogames as well, Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII rides a motorcycle. Even in the West, fantasy stalwarts like World of Warcraft mix elements of Steampunk and Science Fiction, happy to ignore traditional genre boundaries. Personally, it’s those mashups that really push my “oh wow, that’s cool” button. So the book isn’t me deliberately trying to add all those elements in trying to be clever, so much as a product of my own personal tastes and influences. The biggest challenge was finding a way to get everything across to the reader without infodumping and slowing the pace of the novel. You have to be quite ruthless and focus on the story. It ended up being a case of learning to drip feed information as and when it was needed."

The Four Realms throws the reader in at the deep end, challenging them to sink or swim. Those that swim will be treated to a rich and vibrant tale with a decidedly dark underbelly. I recommend this book most fully to those who are growing bored with the fantasy genre, those who are tired of reading derivatives of the classics they once enjoyed. If I had just one sentence in which to pass on my recommendation to another reader, I would say, "Imagine an action-packed fantasy book co-written by J. R. R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling and H. P. Lovecraft - and then throw in some vampires, angels and demons, plus a healthy dose of science fiction then you should have an idea of what to expect from The Four Realms."

I thoroughly enjoyed Faulkner's debut, it is a book that gets so much right that the few things that didn't quite work for me were swept away by the positives. I look forward to reading more by this promising author.

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