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Description of a Warrior’s Life

By Linda Schoales, editor

Nov 20, 2009: “The Philosopher in Arms” is a fantasy novel written from the point of view of a great warrior-leader looking back on his life. Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e’s people, the Yeola, live in a pre-industrial society where the Assembly makes the rules and the decisions, but the semanakraseye acts in times of war. Chevenga is the son of a semanakraseye, and has been trained since childhood to serve his people in turn.

Chevenga begins his story with the death of his father when he is seven. He already knows he is destined to be a warrior and leader of his people. At his father’s death he knows in his heart that he too will die young. In the next chapter, the story begins again with his description of his own birth ceremonies. From here, he describes his life through a series of incidents. By chapter 8 he is 8-years old and he discovers that he needs a special teacher because one day he will probably be the most skillful warrior in the world.

I managed to keep myself reading up to chapter 11 but it was a struggle. The chapters seemed longer than the 3 or 4 screenfuls of actual text. The backstory is very well thought out and interesting, but for my tastes there was always too much information. The writing is long on description and short on action. The pace is so slow that this great warrior is only 8 years old in the 11th chapter. The incidents he describes don’t seem to have any purpose except to show the reader how special he was as a child.

There is no tension or humour and the narrator has a very dry, detached, and omniscient voice. In fact, his descriptions of the ceremonies and his tribe’s customs remind me more of an anthropological text book than a novel. He seems to have a very modern, literate and philosophical viewpoint for someone taking sword lessons to someday lead a war party. I also wasn’t comfortable with the way the narrator describes his childhood memories. He seems to be remarkably clear on the details and on how he felt at the time, considering how young he was.

The other characters feel rather flat—more like “noble savages” than real people. They talk for paragraphs—giving lectures and history lessons. They make sweeping statements like, “The people of Yeola-e feel the semanakraseye as a part of themselves living; if he dies, they feel a part of themselves die.” There are a lot of names and words like “semanakraseye” which interrupt the flow of the narrative as I kept trying to figure out how to pronounce them.

If you like slow, descriptive writing about a special person with A Destiny, or fantasy with more setting and history than action, you may enjoy reading “The Philosopher in Arms”. There is an interesting culture and backstory, but the narrator’s voice doesn’t really make it come alive. The narrator and other characters are long-winded, and given to flowery descriptions, some of which don’t make any sense. And after 11 chapters, the story still doesn’t feel like it’s gotten started. I don’t feel like waiting around to see when it does.

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Chevenga: The Real Story

By capriox, member

Nov 16, 2009: ETA: This story also won the 2013 Rose & Bay Award for Best Fiction!

Philosopher in Arms is the best serial I have read so far online. Karen has had lots of writing practice (to put it simply), and it shows in her skill both in the nuts-and-bolts of her writing and in her storytelling. It helps that PiA is actually a revision & expansion of an already published story, but having read her other work, the completely new you-saw-it-here-first asa kraiya, I’m comfortable saying that Karen knows how to write a controlled plot. The story is also written in first person, so the world-building is done as a natural extension of the character Chevenga’s thoughts, dialogue, and interactions instead of big chunks of description.

I’ve seen the setting for PiA described elsewhere as "so far post-apocalyptic-it’s-back-to-swords-and-horses", which I like enough to repeat here 😉 It has a "soft scifi feel" in that it’s driven by character development and set in a realistic world, but it has fantasy elements like swords and horses and paranormal powers that are presented as in-the-far-future-science-will-give-us-these-abilities, but function in the story as sort of minor personal magics. The premise of the story is that Chevenga is writing his life’s story, revealing to his future readers for the first time the whole truth of his life, including the foreknowledge that he’s kept secret and has shaped his life since he was seven.

Chevenga almost seems a little too good to be true at times, but it’s more like flirting with the line of too much and never actually crossing it. Karen DEFINITELY puts him through challenges and strife in equal measure to Chevenga’s abilities (zomg does the poor guy suffer some times!), so there’s still plenty of room for him to make mistakes, grow, and go on all sorts of adventures all through out. I have never ever been bored by any of PiA, and more than once I’ve laughed out loud or gotten watery-eyed, because you really do feel like you’re right in there with Chevenga.

Fans of pieces like "The Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom," "Tales of MU," and "Alisiyad" will almost certainly find something to enjoy in PiA. However, PiA really is in the top level of current web literature as far as simple good writing and storytelling goes, so really everyone here should at least give it a try.

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I Need a Hero!

By GreenGlass, member

Aug 3, 2009: Update: If anyone is interested, I have a brief perspective response to the most recent editorial review. In reference to PA’s first chapters, I find the supporting characters far from dry, the culture fascinating (although definitely not as individualistic as Americans are used to), the conversations invigorating, and the pace perfect for me, since I absolutely love childhood and training/schooling sagas. I feel that Schoales got exactly what the first chapters are about when she pointed out the detail given to the setting, unique belief system, and kind of person Chevenga is. That is the sort of introduction that this story needs, because that IS the kind of story this is.

Some will love it, finding it speaks to their reading needs as nothing else can, getting so swept along that at times they will feel that it is so intense, it takes them to the brink of what they can process. Others, of course, will grow bored from the beginning, leaving to find something more gratuitous or instantaneous.

Of course in PA, I’ve found a thrill like no other. Every update is heart-filling. Karen gets me every time. And no, I can’t shut up about it. =)

Original Review: I’m "holding out for a hero," dear readers, and in Chevenga, I’ve found an awesome one! I already look forward to reading "asa kraiya," because I am so enjoying the first book of the series (there were 84 chapters at the time of this review, and I made it through them in two days).

This story is definitely of an idealistic character from an idealistic culture. As an idealist, I LOVE it. However, Chevenga’s neighbors and the world he lives in can be cruelly realistic indeed, and I think the issues centering around human nature, behavior, and choice ring true, even if framed from a relatively uncommon perspective. The summary is accurate, in that the various cultures are very well developed, even if the new vocabulary does take some getting used to (I think the first chapter would be better off with less unknown words being tossed about, and more in context explanation of those words, as they are so important to understanding the story). It is indeed a post-apocalyptic world, but in a very subtle way, the references being vague and fitting the context of the story. I have no idea what the real world setting would be, or even what continent they are on (If the continents are even comparable). There are very few truly fantastic or supernatural elements, and they also are handled very subtly, without throwing you out of the story world at all. Another subtlety I appreciated: the main character turns out to be bisexual. It is simply an acceptable concept and even culturally expected of a person in his position.

Go ahead and start READING this! If you like it, you’ll want to enjoy it slowly so as to put off the pain of being caught up for as long as possible, and if you don’t like it, you’ll probably know quickly and sate your curiosity. =P I have the feeling the pace of the writing will be too detailed and emotionally aware for many readers. No matter. Those who are captured by the world in the beginning will better enjoy the handling of battle and torture scenes as well because of the sensitivity of the writer. I for one LOVE the Yoeli people, and I <3 Chevenga. He is the true hero character, inspiring anyone who enjoys characters one can admire and love.

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