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The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor
Sean Wright
Crowswing Books, 160 pages

The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor
Sean Wright
In October 2005, Sean Wright's critically acclaimed debut SFF work The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor was a short-listed finalist for a British Fantasy Award for Best Novella. In 2005, he was named as one of Hatchard's Authors of the Year, along with Susanna Clarke, V.S. Naipaul, and other bestselling authors of the official Royal bookshop, Piccadilly, London. His books have featured prominently at the world's largest independent bookstore, Foyle's, London, too, as a continuing favourite bestseller. His second sci-fi/fantasy title -- Dark Tales of Time and Space was nominated for the 2006 Lancashire Children's Book of the Year Award in the UK.

Sean Wright Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Wicked or What?
SF Site Review: New Wave of Speculative Fiction: The What If Factor

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jakob Schmidt

In line with royal traditions, young Princess Lia-Va has killed her much despised father. But she holds no interest in the throne that is rightfully hers now: an inner voice drives her onto a journey in search of a legendary root, the last piece of a magic puzzle which has been her sole obsession for years. Unfortunately, the roots that are the pieces of this puzzle are also a highly addictive and sought after drug, and Lia-Va's quest itself is turning more and more into a search for the next fix...

The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor is another entry in the growing list of slipstream fantasy/SF novels, and, while flawed, among the most enjoyable ones. Lia-Va is a refreshingly ruthless heroine, who keeps spitting contempt at just about everyone throughout the first half of the novel. Even though this book is obviously targeted at a young-adult audience, the emphasis is on "adult" here: there's a hell of a lot of bad language and remorseless, gory violence. Combined with a lush, often only hinted-at science-fantasy scenery, the result is a grim, but sweeping and fast-paced fantasy with some well thought out twists. In many ways, this book reminds me of Michael Moorcock's Elric stories. In both cases, a mostly unscrupulous hero of high birth driven by a sinister, addictive force, travels through a world of corruption and violence. Also, there's a fundamental morality at work beneath the drastic scenery in both cases.

Unfortunately, Sean Wright's writing skill is far from comparable to Moorcock's. The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor has been published in the author's own small-press, and suffers seriously from the absence of an editor. While Lia-Va proves to be a surprisingly three dimensional character in the end, her mysterious companion Islan turns into the clichéd wise saviour, and the villain, when finally revealed, does little besides gloating and screeching such invective as "Kill him! Kill him!" There's also a final twist that strikes me as one turn of the screw too many. But what bugged me most while reading was the unsteadiness of the narrators voice. Wright keeps switching between Lia-Va's perception and an omniscient narrator who presents pieces of information that not only Lia-Va, but no inhabitant of the world of the novel could probably know. That includes some pretty awkward metaphors that refer to our mundane reality which tend to interrupt the flow of the novel.

Nevertheless, the concept of root addiction is original and presents and interesting twist to the idea that religion is "opium for the masses." And for each little awkwardness, there's a worthwhile piece of imagery -- my personal favourite being the soul of addict captain Tullock-Cha floating in the edge of his cabin, attached to his body by an umbilical cord of ectoplasm. A conscientious rework and a good editor could probably have turned The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor into a great novel, and I would love to read such an "improved" version. As published, the novel is a highly entertaining and intelligent fantasy adventure, but in the end it promises more than it delivers.

Copyright © 2006 Jakob Schmidt

Jakob writes and translates reviews, essays and short stories, most of them for the German magazine Alien Contact ( and its publishing house Shayol. That's in his spare time, which luckily still makes up the bulk of his days.

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