Firesoul: Paizo Publishing, 410 pages, February 2015, cover art by Bryan Sola. This is our second straight battle featuring a Pathfinder role-playing game tie-in. I have been consistently impressed by the level or writing and writers contributing to the Pathfinder series of books. Firesoul is no exception, penned by a fellow Writers of the Future winner, Gary Kloster.
Firesoul has a more African feel than other Pathfinder books I've read. Jiri was found by the shaman Oza as an infant, and he has been training her in his magical arts. As the book opens, someone has broken into a forbidden place of dark magic called The Pyre. When Oza intervenes, worried that some other shaman is trying to misuse The Pyre's black magic, he is attacked by a fearsome demon. Before transforming into a fire serpent to battle the demon, Oza orders Jiri to run to a neighboring village for help from an old friend. She follows his instructions, fearing it will be too late for Oza by the time she returns.
The Buried Giant: Alfred A. Knopf, 317 pages, March 2015, jacket design by Peter Mendelsund. The Buried Giant is set in England during the Middle Ages, after the Romans have withdrawn. People live in warrens built into the hillside. The main characters are Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who decide to take a cross-country journey to see their son. The odd thing about this is they don't remember their son very well; indeed, nobody seems to remember anything very well.
Perhaps best known for his novel The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro has written effective science fiction with Never Let Me Go. The Buried Giant appears to be his first foray into fantasy, judging from the title and several references to demons and ogres menacing the land, but through 25 pages the fantasy elements have yet to appear onstage.
The Battle: Through 25 pages, Firesoul has pulled us into the action quickly. This is a fantasy adventure where people throw fireballs and change their shapes, and we've already seen that happening and we're anticipating more. The characterization is also solid so far. We've had a scene in which Jiri was disappointed by a thoughtless lover, which didn't have much direct impact, but then I think the scene was less about that relationship than it was about establishing how close Jiri is to her mentor Oza. I'd be happy to keep reading Firesoul, and Kloster's biggest obstacle is he's up against Kazuo Ishiguro.
Kazuo Ishiguro is like a great athlete who makes the game looks easy. He writes in simple sentences, the overall effect of which is poetry. I want to keep reading The Buries Giant just to enjoy and study how he does it.
Add to that an intriguing variation on human interactions: the people in this story have extremely poor memories and no form of writing. Much of the first 25 pages consist of Axl vaguely remembering incidents that others simply can't recall. When Axl and Beatrice decide to visit their son, it seems a hopeless quest, because they can't remember just where he lives or even what he looks like.
So far we don't know why people have such poor recall. Perhaps a curse has fallen over the land. Or perhaps Ishiguro thinks that would be a natural result of not writing anything down. If so, I disagree with the premise. I suspect having no written records would prompt people to be more careful about forming lasting mental impressions. But it doesn't much matter to me whether I'm right about that. This is a very science fictional set-up: Ishiguro has made one major change to basic human interactions, and now he's exploring the consequences. What would it be like always to live day-by-day, with hardly a thought of what has already happened or what lies ahead? I want to keep reading, to know why these people approach life that way and how it works out for them.
THE WINNER: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Buried Giant advances to the second round to face The Banished of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler.
To see the whole bracket, click here.