Published posthumously in 2019, Warrior of the Altaii is an entirely new story from acclaimed author Robert Jordan. Originally written in the late 1970s, it tells the story of a barbarian people living on the plains between nearly impassable mountains and the cities closer to the lusher lands near the coasts. It's full of tropes, and plenty of ideas that one can see as being prototypes for the Wheel of Time. But it also tells a moving story about a people who risk losing themselves in order to survive.
Warrior of the Altaii is classic quest and adventure fantasy. Those familiar with Jordan's Conan novels will find plenty of similarities. We're dealing with a physically strong, determined, and confident male hero who will let nothing stand in the way of him accomplishing his goals. It's certainly a fun story, and I particularly enjoyed some of the dialog and banter between a couple of the characters. In many ways, this book was filled with nostalgia for me, even though I'd never read it before. For readers who have enjoyed fantasy novels from the 70s and 80s, this will feel very much like returning to those decades. The setting is a bit vanilla, but doesn't get in the way of anything. The plot is interesting if straightforward and the characters have that archetypal quality to them that so many characters from the 70s have. We have the barbarian leader, the woman out of her depth, the mounted warrior culture, the wise witch, and plenty of others. If you enjoyed those tropes but want to see them in a fresh story, then this one is going to have very high appeal. A nostalgia read that is new is a rare thing, and Altaii scratches that itch very well.
On the other hand, weaknesses are often simply inversions of strengths and that's certainly the case with this novel. This is male centric fantasy. There is a forced sex scene involving mental manipulation, and it reads a bit like an adolescent male's wet dream. The world is heavily dominated by men and, the one female that questions this in the narrative, is beaten profusely and basically told that it's how the world works so get used to it and don't get any crazy ideas about women's liberation. There is one scene where the MC, having been tortured, is being bathed by some young women and he finds them so drab, so uninterested in conversation, so unwilling to play "games" in the baths that he pats himself on the back for "suffering" them to bathe him. At some level, everything becomes a struggle between the sexes, and that struggle is partly worked out through sexual dominance. There are a number of fantasy elements that feel a bit piled on, and it lacks the deep and complex world building that we see in the Wheel of Time. This feels very much like a book from the 70s, with all of the weaknesses that that implies. It's not that there isn't a fun story in the midst of that, but one has to go in knowing what you're getting.
Warrior of the Altaii is an interesting read that I might have enjoyed more as a relic of another era of fantasy writing than I did for its own sake. Nevertheless, it will appeal to fans of Robert Jordan and those looking for something new with a very much 70s fantasy vibe.
Review by Calvin Park
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