I half recall a promise made by Edgar Rice Burroughs, probably in the opening pages of Tarzan, that once the reader commenced their journey with him, he would so completely carry them so far away from their workaday concerns that the real world would disappear and they would be in the deepest jungle with the ape man.
It is the promise of all good novels.
And a promise Alicia Wanstall-Burke delivered on in LEGACY OF GHOSTS.
I skim-read about a hundred pages of the draft manuscript late last year, with an eye to giving Alicia a cover quote. It was pretty obvious she had the goods on this story, so I happily endorsed the book.
A few weeks ago I went back to it.
The bushfires were at their destructive height (damn those exploding cow pats) and it felt a bit perverse to be watching Netflix while the country burned. Taking refuge in a novel, however? That seemed less gross.
Insert contented sigh.
We’re all still going to die when civilisation collapses soon, but at least we’ll have books in the rubble. It’s early days yet, but THE LEGACY OF GHOSTS, Alicia’s follow up to her debut novel BLOOD OF HEIRS might just have been what I needed to reboot my reading habit. Like most people I’ve had trouble focussing on long form reading the last few years. We all know the reasons. Digital distraction. Too much Netflix. A hyper accelerated news cycle. That guy who was wrong on the internet. (Havoc. It was Havoc),
Sitting down with a book seemed too much like hard work, especially to the screeching dopamine addicted distraction monkey in my head.
I finally went back to Alicia’s novel when the monkey screeching got so loud I couldn’t sleep. It was one hot night, with smoke choking the southern capitals, an army of bots and trolls on the march, and my teetering Netflix stack o’ shame threatening to fall and crush me underneath its immeasurable vastness.
Fuck this, I thought. I’m unplugging.
I picked up my kindle...
Yes, I am aware of the irony, or dissonance or whatever the hell it is, but stay with me.
... I picked up my Kindle and a stiff drink, and repaired to the library to restart LEGACY OF GHOSTS. I meant to read for thirty minutes, after which I’d let myself have another dispiriting flick through the infinite scroll of unwatched and half-watched streaming options.
An hour and a half later I had missed my bedtime.
I finished LEGACY late last night, after blowing through another bedtime hour and it has left me with possum eyes and an irritable, sleep-deprived disposition – at least until I can snag an afternoon nap.
But it was totally worth it.
Alicia’s debut with BLOOD OF HEIRS was impressive, but LEGACY makes a powerful case for her striking improvement as a writer. I say striking because she has done it on her own. No publishing house stood behind her. What you get on the page is her own hard work. She very obviously invests in good editing, artwork and production on the gorgeous looking hardbacks she insists on putting out - but again, these are all artistic production choices she makes, so she gets credit for them too.
And so to the story.
If BLOOD was an origin story for our two heroes, Ran and Lidan (spoiler, it was) in LEGACY we get to watch them grow into their full power. In Ran’s case this literally means the magic he is able to cast on the world, in Lidan’s we marvel not just at her prowess as a ranger, her riding, fighting and leadership skills, but also at her coming into power as grown-ass woman.
The saga, like football, is a game of two halves (sorry) and in Legacy those halves come together, but for me this is Lidan’s story. With Ran we quest through frozen mountain and dusty plain, fight ensorcelled zombies and bitey ice dragons, throw around a bit of Force Lightning and hang out with a cool ghost.
But Lidan has to deal with her parents, and that’s a helluva thing. Dad is the sort of Barbarian chieftain you build to kick serious arse in the Diablo franchise. Mum is... difficult. And there’s the usual trouble with boyfriends, siblings, the walking dead, witches, marauding enemy tribes, a douchebag manchild, knife vs sword, teen drinking, dark curses...
You get the idea. This girl is busy. And she has feelings. Lots and lots of feelings about all this accursed busyness.
The writing, especially of Ran’s passage through the icy towers, and Lidan’s many, many knife fights, is exemplary. It transports in the way Edgar Rice Burroughs promised, carrying you away from your shitty day and into another realm.
I don’t do spoilers, so I won’t discuss plot, but the narrative arcs are precisely engineered and deftly executed. The timing is especially on point, with the disparate subplots coming together in a hugely satisfying way. I found the more I read the more I wanted to read (and the less interested I became in other distractions). Eventually, I found dipping into LEGACY for just a scene or two was an effective break from my own deadlines. That’s something I haven’t done in many years.
Of course now I’m stuck waiting for the next one. Like a chump.
Go buy copy to keep her at the keyboard. I need this.