Curse of the Tahiéra is a pleasant and straightforward epic fantasy with likeable characters and a plot and setting that are detailed enough to maintain interest from cover to cover.
Young Rom is an outcast because his unknown father belonged to a despised race. He sets out alone on a trading mission, but he is joined, somewhat against his will, by a big, hearty fellow named Yldich who turns out to be a gifted shaman. The two travel through a forest where supernatural forces are bubbling through an increasingly thin wall of reality, and Rom has to come to terms with both the existence of magic and his own surprising power.
The story owes its beautifully Nordic setting and the well-developed use of magic and dream worlds to the background of the author, who is a Dutch enthusiast of Celtic legend, and a “psychologist and past-life therapist who specializes in dreamwork.” These are great credentials for somebody writing this kind of book, and everything from fur-lined coats to travels in the underworld just seems to ring truer coming from her.
Gillissen is clearly quite enamored of her characters, which can be both good and bad for the reader. On the downside, epic fantasy by besotted authors can veer dangerously close to fan fiction, where every breath and gasp becomes the object of tender scrutiny. Rom tends to spend a lot of time ill or unconscious, especially in the first half of the book, and without any real sense of who he is…well, it’s easier to appreciate a hero when he’s being heroic than when he’s in a swoon. Not that heroes can’t swoon—it’s just nice if that’s a sideline rather than the main act.
On the plus side, the warmth with which the novel’s characters and civilizations are treated can really bring them to life. The characters are archetypes, to be sure – the surly youth with a heart of gold who can’t quite control his newfound powers; the good-spirited but mysterious shaman with a direct line to nature and the spirit world; his beautiful daughter who handles a sword and a man’s heart with equal dexterity. But Gillissen believes in them all, and has given each one a personality, a back-story, and a struggle, and that really lets them sparkle.
Considering that this is a debut novel, and a translation from the Dutch to boot, the writing and editorial quality are very good. There’s some homonym confusion and repetition that sharp readers will pick up on, but…it’s a translation. And it’s cleaner than many books I see that were written in English. Pretty impressive. Also, I have to mention that the romance and melodramatic language that often plagues fantasy writing is kept in skillful check here.
What is distracting, unfortunately, is the odd layout of dialogue tags – perhaps a holdover from Dutch style? – that makes it difficult sometimes to tell who’s speaking. It’s a frustrating kink in otherwise lovely and technically well done prose, and I would urge Gillissen to get this sorted out for next time.
Good fun for fantasy lovers and people who long to ride bareback into battle carrying enchanted swords.