22 Aug 2015

The Heart of Arcrea- Nicole Sager

The Arcrean Conquest # 1
350 Pages, September 2012

“He who discovers the heart of Arcrea and joins the hands of the seven regions will be king.”

Set during a forgotten age of kings and queens, knights and nobles, wise-men and warlords, The Heart of Arcrea follows the story of Druet the blacksmith, who, hoping to free his father from an unjust imprisonment, sets out on a quest that will solve an ancient riddle and crown a man as Arcrea’s first king.
A host of memorable characters join Druet on his mission of justice, but opposition quickly rises to test their level of commitment and their faith in God. Will the dangerous wilds of Arcrea and her seven oppressive lords succeed in bringing an end to Druet’s quest and crush forever the kingdom’s hopes for a just king?
What is this heart of Arcrea and where is it to be found? “You must discover it for yourself.”

I had heard quite a lot about this author’s books, and seen that they were popular before I decided to request to borrow a copy of her first one on a Kindle Lending site. As the story goes, it certainly delivers a clean, godly fantasy story free of objectionable elements that carried important messages about salvation and the Christian life. Even if it takes a while to ‘get into’ there is enough excitement to keep the reader interested, and for the story to stick in the mind after they have finished reading it.

As that sort of heroic fantasy in which the characters have to engage in a perilous quest or journey, it isn’t bad. There are certainly some lovable, unforgettable and unique characters, plenty of friendship, loyalty and even a smattering of romance- as well as a few- interesting made up creatures for the characters to Battle. I would certainly consider other works by this author, but, this one was not a favourite. Perhaps I will enjoy her later ones better if I come to read them.

When it comes to the negatives, other reviewers have mentioned some editorial slip-ups and a few typos. I had two or three major issues. One is that whilst authors have a lot more freedom to create their own imaginative worlds in fantasy- I do not believe good fantasy should be entirely removed from reality as far as the basic realities of human nature are concerned. So, I really felt that Druet, the protagonist was far too perfect. Yes, sometimes he despaired of his mission- but that seemed to be his only fault. Dare I say that he also sometimes appeared annoyingly self-righteous and sanctimonious? I understand that he deplored injustice, and set of on his quest to bring just rule to the land- but it seemed to me that it was he and his friends who were the ones that ultimately decided and defined what this ‘justice’ entailed. Seemingly, anything that did not fit into their ideas of something akin to modern, democratic egalitarianism.

One could be forgiven for being surprised that he even approved of the notion of having a King. There were also areas in which his idealism seemed hypocritical. For instance, he believed that peasants should not be oppressed or subjected to unfair taxes- yet condemned the practice of paying and housing soldiers in castles- giving them ‘the best food and accommodation’ as ‘coddling’ and ‘bribery’ to keep them loyal. So, were their masters just meant to let their soldiers freeze and starve- and not pay their retainers who often had families of their own to support- simply because they were not ‘peasants’?
Not to mention that he and his comrades also seemed to be nigh on invincible.
Druet himself was able to recover from serious injuries that bought him to the point of death more than once- with the help of some healers and a flower possessing miraculous healing properties. One could question why healers with years of experience had to rely on said plant, instead of making best use of their expertise and whatever other substances and natural remedies they might have had to hand with similar properties is anyone’s guess.

The second major issue I had was the way in which all but one of the ‘nobles’ were cast as the villains and universally evil, greedy, corrupt, self-serving and tyrannical. Yet they seemed evil for no other reason that they were noble. As though being born to the noble classes somehow made a person inherently bad, and predisposed them to all of the negative traits above- whereas all of the peasants seemed inherently good, honourable, chivalrous, smart, strong and loyal- as well as possessed of an uncanny ability to defeat trained soldiers.

OK, I understand that Americans don’t like nobles, or the idea of a hereditary aristocracy- but depictions like this get to me. I have seen it in other novels directed at people of certain races and nationalities (often the English), and I still deplore is as naïve, hateful, prejudiced and inaccurate.
The scripture teaches us that all humans are inherently sinful- and (whilst I appreciate the author was not seeking to make any kind of theological statement) hence it is not something which is determined by class or race. Peasants in the past could be just as corrupt, greedy and violent as any money-grabbing or tyrannical Lord- and I think this should be put across.
At one point it even seemed to be implied that nobles and their followers were somehow excluded from God's plan apparently because of their supposed inherent wickedness, when all commoners, even non-believers, were seemingly not. A theologically troubling notion if I do have it correct.

Perhaps I may be accused of going into too much detail, or being too pedantic about a work of fantasy but I do believe these issues are worthy of note. As stated above, this novel did have its plus points, and I would certainly be interested enough to read more by this author- but I’m not sure I’d want to shell out the nearly £5 that Amazon UK charges for the privilege. I would recommend it, but it’s not a favourite- a little too much social prejudice for my liking.

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