Leiyatel's Embrace by Clive S Johnson

7/10 A deep and detailed tale, clearly a labour of love.

Review by Ed Collingwood

An intriguing tale, Leiyatel's Embrace will appeal to those who like their fantasies lavishly imagined and richly textured.

The author takes us to Castle Dica, a millennia-old castle so vast that it has swallowed the entirety of the coastal mountain on which it sits. Literally miles wide and requiring days to traverse, the castle encompasses districts, farms, markets, palaces and estates within its towering walls. Once almost a city or realm in its own right, the castle has decayed over the years as its population has shrunk and, as we enter the story, a few scattered inhabitants continue to scratch isolated existences of varying satisfaction within its faded glory.

Without wishing to give away too much of the plot, the story follows the sudden and unexpected arrival of a mysterious army of invaders outside the castle walls, and the subsequent efforts of a lovingly-depicted bunch of oddball characters to establish the whos and whys of the invaders' arrival. In doing so, they discover much about their own home and their own purpose.

Where Leiyatel's Embrace scores highly is in the care paid to the depiction of the castle environs and the people who inhabit them. History and geography are excellently thought out, the place names are authentic-sounding, and the author's deeply evocative descriptive language provides us with a beautiful vignette of a time and place. The vistas, great and small, are splendidly detailed. The characters are gleefully eccentric, keenly observed and develop satisfyingly as the story progresses to a surprising conclusion.

The narrative pace, it must be said, is fairly slow. This is an observation rather than a criticism; the author's cultured language takes us on a gentle road of exploration paved with character, rather than down a fast-paced highway of action. Once the reader is enmeshed in the tale, it does a good job in holding the interest and I found myself quite intrigued to find out more about the mysterious invaders. The craft shown in the writing is of a high standard and does requires the reader to pay some attention to reap the full benefit. Leiyatel's Embrace is one of those tales to sink into in a cosily warm room on a winter afternoon, possibly with a glass of dark ale to hand. Probably not one, I have to say, to dip in and out of on a crowded commuter train.

The dialogue takes a Shakespearean approach and is heavily laced with "thee", "thou", "afore", "dost", "twixt" and so forth. Whilst this is very much a matter of personal taste, I did find it made the conversational passages a little heavy going at times. I have never quite understood the logic of characters in a fantasy world speaking in a faux 16th century accent.

There is some fluctuation in tone, which in places is quite portentous and in others, notably the King's Council scenes and Falmeard's bungled romance with Geran, darkly comic. I myself thought the latter approach played much more highly to the author's flavoured and descriptive style

From a reviewer's point of view, the easiest comparison to Leiyatel's Embrace, both from story context and style of writing, is Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast. Another might be Tad Williams' Stone of Farewell series, certainly the first one, The Dragonbone Chair and its predominant setting in an eccentrically-populated castle. Fans of these authors are likely to very much enjoy Clive S. Johnson's work.

Bearing in mind it's a self-published work, presentation of the novel is generally good. There are two very nicely produced maps included, which I found very useful for reference. The author's writing style tends to enclose multiple bits of dialogue within one ongoing paragraph, which occasionally meant I lost track of who'd said what and found myself skimming back to check. I'd gently suggest that breaking these onto separate lines would make this much clearer for the reader. This is a small critique and is more to do with editing and layout than the storytelling itself.

Overall, a deep and detailed tale, clearly a labour of love. Not for everyone, but for those willing to immerse themselves it will be an extremely satisfying read. I wish Mr Johnson every success with it.

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