by Gary Gaugler, Jr.
Published by Gaugler-Libby
Published July 20, 2015
208 pgs. • Find on Amazon.com
Reviewed by James J. Sagmiller
November 22, 2015
We journey to a fantastic world of myths, magic and monsters in Gary Gaugler Jr.’s The Woodland Tombs of Eliantar. This epic fantasy with gay themes is exciting, unpredictable and romantic.
The tale follows the adventures of a reluctant hero drawn into a struggle with evil forces threatening to destroy the beautiful land of Eliantar.
We learn of the ancient, mythic past of Eliantar in the prologue. Several gods created the planet Eliantar and filled it with mountains, lakes, deserts, grassland and forest. (A map showing these features is provided in the first few pages of the novel). The gods also made human beings called Elites and gave each of them special powers. Most of the Elites were homosexual, an orientation set by the gods as a means of controlling population. Soon the evil god of death and darkness, Skarsend, grew jealous of what the other gods had created. In his wrath he spread death and destruction over the land. The gods battled the monster together and finally imprisoned him in a secret place. But the king’s seer predicted his return after 2,000 years, telling of the rise of a great hero who would battle Skarsend in an attempt to save Eliantar from destruction.
Our hero is Ara Tataman, a handsome, lone hunter committed to living on the fringe of society. He is asked by Forr Suosor, the Royal Advisor, to accompany him to Castle Village to work as a hunter. He hesitates, but finally accepts. When he arrives, Ara witnesses an attempted assassination of the young, beautiful Prince Vale. He pursues the villain out the city gates all the way to Errandomn where they do battle. Ara defeats him and discovers that his own body has the power to heal quickly. Upon his return, Ara is asked to serve as Royal Protector to the king and to train him and his twin brother, Prode, in the arts of war. Ara finds that the prince and his brother share the power of telekinesis, a useful ability in battle.
Ara spends most of his time with Prince Vale and a deep affection develops between them. When Vale is crowned king, Ara learns that the ruler of Eliantor is not permitted to have any physically intimate relationships except those with the intent of procreation. This frustrates his deepening feelings for Vale. Soon after, Forr tells King Vale and Ara the story of an evil lady named Sorpa Veneficus who will return and raise an army of the dead to battle all that is good in Eliantar. Vale, Ara and Forr leave on a secret journey to find Sorpa. Their travels take them to various regions of Eliantar in pursuit of the Dark Lady and in time they discover she will be difficult, if not impossible, to vanquish. Meanwhile, the god Skarsend is awakening, growing stronger and will soon release himself from bondage. All looks black for the future of Eliantar.
The evil characters in this novel are deceitful and powerful—just what is needed to make a fantasy novel exciting:
“I think you’ll soon find that it may just be easier to give in to death,” Sorpa’s voice cracked with delight. “After all, you certainly can’t keep this up forever. You must be getting tired by now, but my army never tires and will only grow in numbers. Feel free to surrender to your impending doom.”
Books written in the epic fantasy genre tradition are often quite lengthy, but this novel is much shorter than works by authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien or Terry Brooks. The principal characters are well developed, especially the protagonist, but named minor characters are perhaps too abundant. I suspect that several of them will be brought closer to the reader in the sequel to this volume. The writing style is informal, concise, and action-driven, without long paragraphs of description. Occasional awkward sentences and grammar are present but do not hinder the flow significantly. The narrative shifts around often from mythic past to present, which can confuse the reader, but each time the information has a direct bearing on the action. The plot is unpredictable as well, unfolding in surprising ways, so one is never bored. The ending of the book leads the reader to the sequel, The Emerald Gates of Eliantar.
I recommend this book; it is fun to read, exciting, colorful and the pace quickens as the climax approaches. Of sword and sorcery there is plenty. Though the novel does explore homosexual romance, it is handled in such an understated way that the book would be suitable for young adult readers as well as adults.
James Sagmiller grew up in the multicultural environment of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. A lifelong artist and writer, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art from University of Montana, Missoula in 1977. In 1998, he completed a Master of Arts Degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in Anthropology. For his Master’s thesis, he conducted a comparative study of maize of the prehistoric American Southwest. Also trained as a teacher, James is particularly interested in children’s literature and the cultural meaning and psychology of literature originating in oral traditions. James has written a weekly garden column for The Mission Valley News, a comic novel, The Adventures of Nico and Gianni: London 1712, and edited and illustrated Poems, by G.R. Simple. James just published an interactive digital book, The Legend of Cloud Boy. Presently, James lives in Corvallis, Oregon where he gardens and collects heirloom European and Native American vegetables. James writes a weekly blog at heirloomgardener.net.
© 2015 by James J. Sagmiller.