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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.

6 of 8 members found this review helpful.
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