Wednesday, September 05, 2007

By Neal Barrett Jr.

While Neal Barrett is well known for works that verge on the surreal (e.g. Interstate Dreams) or the grimmest of grim futures (Through Darkest America), he can put together a rousing tale of swashbuckling adventure.

Aldair is a student at the University in Silium. Like many a youth, he runs afoul of the Pigs. But Aldair is something of a boar himself. In this version of Europe, different species of animals form the rival kingdoms. Aldair is a boar from the Venici, a tough border tribe used to acting independently. Rhemia is an empire of pigs, who face the wolfish Stygianns to the north and the sophisticated and snaky Nicieans to the south.

Unfortunately for Aldair, his comfortable life is disrupted when he is accused of heresy. In an off-kilter version of The Defiant Ones (or is it The Three Little Pigs?) Aldair joins up with Rhief, who is literally the big, bad wolf. They are looking for Albion, a mystic land of wonder and terror. But first they travel through a good bit of the known world on picaresque adventures that see them as pirates, slaves, mercenaries, scholars, and child-care specialists.

Aldair in Albion is real rousing fun, but not at the expense of well-drawn characters and a humanistic (or is animalistic appropriate here?) belief in the value of truth. It forms part of a larger body of quality writing given to us by Mr. Barrett, and one that has surely earned him some kind of recognition for a lifetime of achievement as a writer.

-Dave Hardy


Charles Gramlich said...

"Aldair across the Misty Sea" was my introduction to Neil Barrett and I loved these books. There are four in the series I believe. I have them all but don't have them with me at work. These are really fine sword and sorcery tales. I've often wondered if these books were an influence on David Brin's Uplift War series, although quite possibly the Barrett books might have been influenced by Andre NOrton's Breed to Come. The whole series is great fun.

Dave Hardy said...

I haven't read Brin or Norton's stories. If they are as good as Barrett's work, I may put them on my list.

Anonymous said...

Check out Barret's FINN series; certain animals have been magically uplifted. Madcap hijinks ensue, but Finn has a lizard for any occasion. -SH

Anonymous said...

Biting Dog Publications has released Through Darkest America and the sequel, Dawn's Uncertain Light by Neal Barrett Jr in ebook format available at all major retailers.

Dave Dinsmore
Biting Dog Publications