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Acacia
David Anthony Durham
Doubleday, 576 pages

Acacia
David Anthony Durham
David Anthony Durham was born in New York City in 1969 and he grew up in Maryland. In 1994, he received a Full Fellowship to the MFA Program at the University of Maryland College Park. He wrote his first two novels during the program, Cicada and August Fury, both unpublished. He graduated in 1996. In 1999, while living in France, he wrote Gabriel's Story which was a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Best of 2001 pick, and a Booklist Editor's Choice. It won the 2001 First Novel Award from the American Library Association's Black Caucus, the 2002 Alex Award and the 2002 Legacy Award in the Debut Fiction Category. Beginning in 2005, he taught at the Stonecoast Low-Residency MFA Program, and during the 2006/2007 academic year he was the MacLean Distinguished Visiting Writer at The Colorado College. He recently accepted a position as an Associate Professor in the MFA program of California State University, Fresno.

David Anthony Durham Website
ISFDB Bibliography
An Interview with David Anthony Durham

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Over the years, it's hard to not notice the similarities between science fiction, fantasy, and the writing of history. Science fiction, of course, is well-known for its many detailed future histories. Indeed, for many readers the details of the history of the world the writer is portraying is one of the most fascinating aspects of the story. Fantasy too, from Tolkien to Steven Erikson to J.K. Rowling has more than its share of works that are based on an incredibly detailed imaginary history that serves to make the world the characters live in come alive in much the same way that a good history writer can bring to life the worlds of ancient Greece, China, or any other period of human history. It should come as no surprise, then, that a writer known for his historic novels would be able to create a living, breathing fantasy world, one in which the characters' lives and motivations are a direct result of the history that lies behind them. In Acacia, the first novel in a new epic fantasy series, author David Anthony Durham has done just that.

Acacia is an empire, and at first glance, a rather benign one. It's people are apparently wealthy and happy, its subjected countries peaceful. It doesn't take long, however, before that peaceful facade is stripped away. Many generations in its past, Acacia made a true devil's bargain. In order to protect themselves from a perceived threat on the other side of the world, and in return for a promise that they would not be attacked by the Lothan Aklun, Acacia agreed to the Quota. Every year, a certain percentage of Acacia's children are rounded up and sent overseas, their final fate unknown to either their parents or the rulers of Acacia. And in addition to promises of peace, the Quota agreement supplies Acacia with a powerful addictive drug that renders the populace complacent and supportive of the established regime.

The current emperor, Leodaran Akaran, thinks this is a bad deal, but the realities of politics and power make it difficult for him to change the system. His children have been raised in ignorance of how the system works, but he has hopes that they will eventually succeed him and abolish the Quota. Then, Acacia is attacked and overrun by the Mein, a people they long ago conquered, and everything changes.

One of the delights of reading Acacia are the sudden, unexpected developments in the story. Durham is completely unafraid to play against convention and the reader's expectations. Wars begin and end as quickly as they started, the lives of major characters take surprising twists and turns. Just when you think the story is going to fall into a familiar pattern, characters die, or their actions expose motivations that are completely apart from what you'd expect them to be. In particular, the Quota, which is intentionally planned to evoke the slave trade that was so influential and contradictory in American history, is shown to be a both a subtle and powerful constraint on the decisions of all those who are involved in it. It forms the basis for the power of both Acacia and the League that controls the world-wide trade and distribution of goods. And behind it all lies the mysterious Lothan Akun, whom no Acacian has ever seen, but whose power and might is so legendary as to be considered unassailable.

David Anthony Durham's experience as a writer of historical novels such as Pride of Carthage and Walk Through Darkness has served him well in his first foray into the world of epic fantasy. Acacia is a complex, multi-layered work, and introduces us to a world in which good and bad are not easily separated. In that way, it creates a world whose history feels as real, complicated, and unpredictable as our own. Good historians know that events, and the people who create them, are never as straight-forward and easy to explain as they might look from the vantage point of someone living many generations later. By building his world's history with the same perspective that would be brought by a first-rate historian, David Anthony Durham has begun the creation of a fantasy world whose characters and events will be as real in the minds of his readers as history itself.

Copyright © 2007 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson finds that the way an imagined history can work so well to illuminate our own history to be one of the most compelling reasons for enjoying good science fiction and fantasy. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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