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Jaarfindor Remade
Sean Wright
Crowswing Books, 298 pages

Jaarfindor Remade
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 Interview: Sean Wright
SF Site Review: The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor
SF Site Review: Wicked or What?
SF Site Review: New Wave of Speculative Fiction: The What If Factor

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Hebblethwaite

(To start with a disclaimer: yes, that is me thanked on the Acknowledgments page -- for which I'm flattered -- but no, it hasn't affected any of the opinion expressed in this review.)

My first experience of Sean Wright's work was a short novel called The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor. It looked set to be a weird, though relatively straightforward, Moorcock-influenced tale of a warrior princess. It proved in the end to be something rather different, as Wright turned his back on many of the conventions of fantasy and, indeed, of storytelling. Sure, the book was rough around the edges (and ichorous in the middle); but the sheer force of the imagination on display more than made up for that. I subsequently read two other books of Wright's, neither of which was quite as affecting as Twisted Root, though there was the constant, welcome sense of a restless imagination at play.

Now Wright brings us Jaarfindor Remade, his longest work to date and a follow-up to Twisted Root (though not a sequel in the conventional sense). Reality's walls have been breached, and the worlds of Earth and Jaarfindor have become fused. Life in the capital of New Jaarfindor, Queen's Lynn (formerly present-day King's Lynn in Norfolk), presents several challenges: humans rub shoulders with insectiants, and you never know if the person next to you is an android; the mysterious shamutants, living beneath the city, may (it is said) erase your memories if you're not careful; the air is so polluted that decontamination is compulsory whenever you enter a building; and nobody knows what's "Out There" beyond the fog.

Most people don't know, anyway. Someone who does have an idea is the assassin-artist Domino Fortune, who originates from outside Queen's Lynn, but who came to the city after insectiants murdered his family. Seeking to give up killing, Fortune agrees to take on one last job from Lia-Va (the princess from The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor and now boss of Highfield Corp.): to assassinate President Klauss Kindred of the Tinted Green Party, and recover the original lecture notes of the recently beheaded Dr. Lars Handel. Fortune's plan is to do all this, then rid himself of Lia-Va once and for all; but others have designs that may scupper his own.

Let us be clear from the outset that Wright is more of an ideas man than a stylist. Jaarfindor Remade has its fair share of awkward sentences and passages; for example: "The metal coffins were stacked against the walls of the cathedral, ten deep and a hundred high, like an overstocked shelf of gigantic sardine tins." Often, it's not so much that Wright's prose doesn't work, more that it draws unnecessary attention to itself. Persevere, though, and this becomes part of the rhythm of Wright's world; and it's the world that makes the book worth reading.

The author does wear some of his influences on his sleeve (Jeff VanderMeer's influence is particularly notable, and Wright even pays tribute to him by inserting the name of VanderMeer's small press, Ministry of Whimsy, into the text), but what Wright does with them is all his own. He paints an intriguing background that would be good to explore further; but, importantly, he also tells a complete story against that background, a story with its own interesting fantasy notions. To find the location of Lars Handel's lecture notes, Domino Fortune must enter into the doctor's memories, preserved in Handel's "root" (which all Jaarfindorians regurgitate after death); however, Handel himself, though dead, is still hanging around… and I shall say no more about that, or I'll spoil the fun.

Sadly, though, there's a problem at the heart of Jaarfindor Remade -- quite literally so. The book is divided into three parts, the first and third of which deal with Domino Fortune. The second, however, is different: Fortune is shown how to access Handel's memories by a young museum guide named Anna Eversen; her preternatural strength leads him to suspect she's a machine, but he is proved wrong after he kills her at the end of Part One. Part Two takes an unexpected detour, concentrating on Anna reliving her memories as she dies; at least, they seem to be her memories -- but reality could be playing tricks. We discover an older Anna, dying of cancer whilst undergoing painful Regeneration Treatment, who also has to cope with the return of her murderous husband; one daughter about to observe an Old Jaarfindorian custom by merging personalities with her partner; and another daughter becoming friends with a shamutant.

This section has its shortcomings (chiefly that the various first person voices Wright flits between aren't distinctive enough); but, like those in the rest of the book, they may largely be tolerated, because there's still plenty of interest going on. So what's the problem? It's that Part Two disrupts the flow of the novel as a whole. The second section does link to the other two by filling in background information; but it's really not much more than a pendant to the main story. The trouble is, Anna's part is the longest of the three, which unbalances the book as a novel. It made me wonder if Jaarfindor Remade would have been better structured differently, perhaps presented as two separate but linked stories, one consisting of Parts One and Three together, the other just Part Two. I don't know, but I think it's worth bearing the structure in mind as you read the book.

And Jaarfindor Remade is worth reading, for all its flaws. True, it doesn't quite pack the imaginative punch of The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor; but that book works because it's a one-off. Jaarfindor Remade helps to flesh out Sean Wright's fictional world and point the way to future tales. It's an intriguing stepping stone on a journey to a destination which, I suspect, even Wright has not pictured fully. But the destination does not matter so much when the journey is full of such colour and life. I look forward to the next stage.

Copyright © 2006 David Hebblethwaite

David lives out in the wilds of Yorkshire, where he attempts to make a dent in his collection of unread books. You can read more of David's reviews at his review blog.

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