Monday, May 02, 2022

Book Review: "Greyfax Grimwald" by Niel Hancock

Greyfax Grimwald by Niel Hancock (Popular, 1977)

While camping and hiking in the Mojave Desert in late February, I finished reading Niel Hancock’s Circle of Light #1: Greyfax Grimwald. Published in 1977 by Popular Library, this book—as well as others in the series—featured youth-friendly cover artwork by Gervasio Gallardo. During the campout, one of my friends approached as I read in my camp chair after a day of hiking, and said, “Greyfax Grimwald! I read that in the ’80s!” I said that I was enjoying it but didn’t think it was very good, and she said that she remembered really liking it. (Both of us would have been much younger in the ’80s, and I might have been more receptive to it then.)

That pretty much sums up how I feel about it: I don’t think it’s that good of a book, but I enjoyed reading it (especially in the desert)—and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it even more so three or more decades ago. When I was younger and first getting into science fiction and fantasy in the Midwest, the nearby Waldenbooks was a treasure trove of options—most notably including J.R.R. Tolkien, this series, and another, whose author I don’t even remember (though I do remember the covers being gray and having a skull border of sorts around them). I kind of stopped at Tolkien before moving on to more modern authors. Outside of the obvious classics, the ’70s seemed passé to me as a preteen and teenager, and I’m sure I neglected some fine books.

Hancock’s book, the first of four in his Circle of Light series, introduces the fantasy setting of Atlanton Earth. The author builds on that world in two additional four-book series, as well as a standalone novel. The cover of the paperback says, “Beginning a great new saga for all who love The Lord of the Rings,” so the series’ intended and asserted lineage is clear. Similarly, the hand-drawn maps of Atlanton Earth, as well as the lands across a river, the Calix Stay, also assert a firm place and setting in fantasy fiction. But the book somehow falls short and flat for me, coming across as making the moves and noises that fantasy novels make, but not really making good on its promise. Which is what, exactly?

The three primary heroes of the novel, Bear, Dwarf, and Otter, venture across the Calix Stay to Atlanton Earth, which seems to be a cross between Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Terry Brooks’s postapocalyptic Shannara in that there are occasional signs and indicators of a pre-cataclysm society or world of sorts. Characters don’t entirely remember who or what they were in previous ages, and magical beings meddle in the affairs of men from outside the boundaries of the known world. Evil forces manipulate vile creatures against the armies of mankind.

Much of the book features Bear, Dwarf, and Otter bumbling through Atlanton Earth with the assistance of their friend Greyfax Grimwald—the Gandalf of the tale. Grimwald, friends with a young warrior in love named Faragon Fairingay, has hidden the Arkenchest, an artifact needed to fight the forces of darkness, led by Dorini. Characters are captured and imprisoned, homes are destroyed, and eventually, Bear and Otter learn that they can adopt the guise of human beings to move more successfully throughout civilization.

Once that happens, the plot wanders less, as our heroes become more comfortable leaving the relatively safe and cozy confines of their new homes in Atlanton Earth. Setting out after each other, Bear and Otter end up befriending a young soldier who brings them to a general who is in reality a wizard in disguise, and the gathering armies finally clash. That combat, which happens in a rush at the very end of the volume, is rather anticlimactic. I suppose it’s intended to pull you into the next volume, but I’m not sure I’ll bite.  (This review was previously published in slightly different form in the LASFAPA apazine Faculae & Filigree #9.)

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