Defenders of the Five Realms

   by John Harris

Please read all entries in this section before you make up your mind!

ISBN: 0-9676054-1-5       $12.95      (paperbound with fourteen black ink illustrations by author)

  First the bad news...

Children's author Joan Lowery Nixon declined to endorse this book, saying that it has no apparent connection to contemporary issues in the lives of young people and would therefore bore or puzzle them.  We think that such criticism is well worth sharing with you.  Admittedly, kids who are immersed in a culture of divorce, condoms, drive-by shootings, and hallucinogens may not relate to some #!%&! yarn about Never-Never Land.  Fair enough  And then there are those who like the "Never-Never Land genre"... some of them are disappointed that Defenders is heavier on characterization and moralism than on breath-taking fantasy: cf. the  next review. 

"This book belongs somewhere in that large gray area of Pretty Good or Worth Reading.  The story may be a little on the basic side, and is perhaps best for someone who is new to medieval fantasy stories."   Dead Trees Review... umm, if we might respond: obviously, this reviewer shares some of Joan Lowery Nixon's reservations, though for different reasons.  She saw the book as failing to slip neatly into the "children's fiction" niche, whereas DTR has placed the book beside two sci-fi thrillers about something "in a huge vault on Mars" and "a DNA treasure house".   Let's just say that Defenders is decidedly not for people who enjoy rigidly "genre" fiction.  Notice that one of these people has said anything about the extraordinarily poetic style (click on "excerpt"); so, if you like your stories injected like some kind of fix, avoid this one.

And then there's Kelly Hampton, English major, creative writer, graduate student, and journalist.  "The primary words that come to mind when I seek adjectives to describe Defenders of the Five Realms are charming, poetic and sad.  It is fairy-talish in its simplicity of style, but many of the insights into human nature and little bits of wisdom are complex, making it ideal for children and adults alike. For those who like graphic battle scenes, weird Dungeons and Dragons-type monsters, and witches or elf maidens who look like they belong on the cover of a romance novel, this book may be a let-down; for those who value imagination and more concerned with plot, characters, and a story that rings true, this book offers something.  Speaking as a person who's addicted to Middle Earth and Narnia, I do think most fantasy readers will like Defenders because, let's face it, we're growing bored with Tolkien (the admitted master) rehashed and rehashed badly, at that. This book offers something different that I think many would appreciate."

"Defenders of the Five Realms is a story of growing up beneath its delightful surface of dizzying deeds and tactical tricks. Several of the characters become so many-sided that they verge on the Shakespearean: a hotspur obsessed with conquest, a father whose worship of his daughter turns to vengeful spite, a naïve young man who knows the value neither of his talents to the world nor of the world’s promises to him—all are here, and more. An air of tragedy briefly descends over the heart of the story, as well, before it finishes once again in frolicking hijinks: Queen Eedib, a faint copy of Virgil’s Camilla, reminds us of our mortality and of life’s fragility. All in all, the range of emotions and experiences covered in this rambling, rip-roaring recitation of ruin and rescue written in the style of an Irish heroic narrative is stunning. So many good lessons about life have seldom been veiled in such energetic fantasy!"     Dr. Peter Singleton, editor, Arcturus Press

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Like all traditional tales, this one opens in the misty past, when a great dragon was said to have gnawed away at the island of the Five Realms.  The pusillanimous denizens of the provinces then were said to have poisoned the ravenous beast --a deed which, however dubious, King Olgar now seizes upon as a pretext to levy a heavy fine upon all the Realms together.  When they refuse his demand and question his right to make it (as he expects), his dragon men come in secret invasion and subjugate most of the island at once.  The only significant hold- outs inhabit the island's inland heights, and Olgar looks for little resistance from such primitive tribes.

But he has not reckoned upon the highlanders' knowledge of the land.  Especially one young rover --Ronan--taunts the dragon crews to leave their ships and pursue him through the glens.  Here he leads them a merry chase, reiving them in the mists and wearing them out on the slopes.  King Olgar is so frustrated that he vows special vengeance upon the lad; while the captive King Garig of the West whose release Ronan has won is so delighted that he awards the lad his daughter, the Princess Finsha.  Neither king has wisely presumed upon the sympathies of those in his sway, as it turns out.  Olgar's son Alred grows so vexed with his father's furious out- bursts and treacherous deceptions that he sides with the enemy --with the lovely Amazon Eedib, to be exact, whose life he vainly attempts to save from a snare.  For her part, Finsha has privately pledged her troth elsewhere.  She and her lover evade Ronan's advances and finally attempt to cause his death.  When their plot comes to light, Ronan retreats to the Glens to brood, while Garig sells Finsha and her lover into slavery.

At this point, the energies of both sides have been drained by losses and by dissension within the ranks.  Olgar's men dig in, and a long winter seems in store for all.  Yet Ronan, tutored by the ancient Cob, triumphs over his wounded pride and returns to seek the freedom of those who wronged him.  In a finale which pits him personally against Olgar, his durable spirit prevails over the other's physical might, and the pair who once plotted to slay him are freed from their chains.

Originally conceived as a children's tale, Defenders features a style rich in jingles, redundant runs, alliterations, and all the lively trappings of oral narrative.  More than that, it presents complex characters whose struggles dramatize such moral polarities as honor vs. false loyalty, forgiveness vs. vindictiveness, and self- sacrifice vs. self-absorption.  Adults and sophisticated adolescent readers who enjoy fantasy will probably fall in love with this book.