There’s something about Australia that seems to bring out the true creativity in its indies. They put out rich, complex movies that would never have seen the light of day in cookie-cutter Hollywood—Dark City. Mad Max. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. They are eerily magical, with a stately pace and intricate characterizations, lit from backstage by a blazing red sun. Their actors say their lines quietly so that you’ve got to turn up your TV. Their scenes move across the beautiful desolation of the Outback, the vast bushlands standing in for the Apocalypse, for farmlands, for prairies and Las Vegas.
Richard, the protagonist of the book, isn’t your standard fantasy hero. While not written in the same flowing unchaptered frontiersman style as Cormac McCarthy’s masterwork “The Road”, this story carries the same feeling of fatherly protectiveness, of helplessness, a xenophobic vigilance against the unknown dangers of a foreign wasteland. Fleeing an enigmatic enemy known only as the Magician, the weathered fugitive hustles his increasingly strange daughter from town to town, clashing with a revolving cast of leering highwaymen and proud bedouin.
Aged, put-upon and weatherbeaten, the weary tactician is a deft cross between the driven Roland Deschain and the reluctant Indiana Jones. He doesn’t run from a fight, but he doesn’t charge mindlessly into battle, either—fear drives his decisions; fear of death, fear of losing his daughter, fear of losing his sanity, the fear any normal person would experience when forced to face the creatures that Richard encounters. And that makes him one of the most relatable heroes I’ve ever seen. He does what I would do, and feels how I would feel, and that makes it extremely immersive. His decisions feel real and make sense.
Richard and Ana’s tale has that special something that makes Australian indie so imaginative and commanding of attention. It also has the lyrical cadence and tight, locked-inside-the-head scope of a book that should have been published before the invention of the Kindle, a legacy fantasy epic that belongs between Lackey and Jordan on a shelf in a 1994 Waldenbooks.
If you’re a fantasy fan, you would be denying yourself a real treat by skipping this one. Get ready for the sequel, “The Ragged Lord”, and pick up “Century of Sand”. Just don’t forget your burnouse—the sun’s murder out there.