The Unfamiliar Familiar: A Review of Leisl Kaberry's Titanian Chronicles: Journey of Destiny (Book 1)

You are a part of us and our culture because you came to us at such an early age. However your soul and instincts are human. If I were to take a baby leopard and raise him with a flock of sheep he would become like the sheep. He would be placid, maybe timid, would stay with the flock and perhaps eat grass but eventually he would feel the call of the wild and desire to wander away from the flock in pursuit of something more. It is only nature Afeclin, and there is no point in trying to deny it.”

Titanian Chronicles, Journey of Destiny is the Hero’s Journey writ large, using the building blocks of myth and folklore at their deepest roots. All the great stories you’ve half-heard and half-remembered are here, though perhaps in their “natural” form. Reading this work gives you the distinct feeling that you’re turning back the pages of time, or glimpsing between the cracks of so much ancient literature to the ur-story at their source. Clearly the author has done her homework, and asked the most important question a novelist can ask him/herself: how does my story fit into the grand tapestry of literature? Without trying to reinvent the wheel, Leisl Kaberry manages to emulate the great works of fantasy from the past (both the recent and distant past) without telling the same story twice. You don’t know these characters, and can only guess at some of the twists and turns of this story, and yet it all exists in a world that feels familiar and habitable. Indeed, you’ll want to set up camp and prolong your stay in this exotic yet dangerous least long enough to figure out what a “lawfabex” is.

However, if you cut aside all the epic fantasy, fabulous beasts, and kings and warriors of legend, what you have it the most profound story of all: the story of a human looking for his place in the world. Leisl Kaberry manages what all fantasy writers strive to do at the beginning of their tale, only to get lost in the thickets of their imagination: to create realistic, believable characters who are human beneath their fantastic names and powers. In essence, this is the story of a misplaced human, Afeclin, who is orphaned after a terrible tragedy and brought up as a favored son among the elves. Yet he has glimpses of his destiny at an early age, as faint rumblings of a magic gift come through dreams and portents. He also discerns the true nature of his past, and realizes that he must undertake his “journey of destiny” to find out who he is—or what he will become. To do this, he must part with his family and the only life he’s known, as well as the woman he loves, Lenna, who is engaged to his best friend, Wolflang. The beauty of this story is the author’s willingness not to take herself or her story too damn seriously: characters laugh, act foolish, and betray their very human foibles—even if they are elves. One of my favorite scenes in the opening chapters is Wolflang’s reluctance to tell Lenna he plans to accompany Afeclin on his adventure, though their hour of departure grows ever closer. He keeps drawing it off, and in one scene, the two men whisper and mime about Wolflang’s inability to tell her while Lenna blissfully chats away, little realizing how far off their wedding day truly is.

What drives the story forward are these human acts of weakness, while ground a fantastic story in the ‘real’ world. For example, Lenna knows all-too-well of Afeclin’s deep love for her, which she exploits soon after to wound Wolflang (who abandons her courtesy of a tepid letter—the ancient precursor to the break-up text or e-mail): she offers to love him forever if he abandons his quest, despite the terrible wedge this would thrust between Afeclin and Wolflang’s friendship. And Afeclin, for all his higher purpose, almost accepts...yet realizes he would betray more than his quest to accept her offer. Another insightful moment occurs some time later, when Afeclin encounters Pit, an inhabitant of the world outside who informs him of the “Great War.” When Afeclin pleads ignorance of this event, Pit explains, “Perhaps you know it better as the Human War...All the other races of Titania refer to the war as the Human War but of course humans refer to it as the Great War.” This little moment allows Pit to flesh out the world of Titania in some much-needed exposition; but more importantly, it reminds us of the importance of names. Every name betrays a culture and a perspective: clearly the elves blames the human for the war, while other races see the larger scope, even if humans were to blame for starting it. Here Afeclin functions as a heroic Everyman, who (like the reader) has to learn to navigate the layers of culture and history in the world beyond. He proves surprisingly adept at his role as cultural tour guide, and much of the novel’s greatest moments come through his discoveries and insights. 

Without giving any more of the plot away, or the numerous adventures—both epic and human—that Afeclin endures, I should only add that there are two types of epic fantasy: those of possibility and pretension. The latter are bombastic attempts to out-Tolkein Tolkein, as if cramming a narrative with pseudo-arcane folklore alone will make a story live and breathe. You know these kinds of stories from the first page, when a overwrought Prologue attempts to invoke an atmosphere clearly beyond the author’s capabilities. Luckily for us, Journey of Destiny follows the first path simply by avoiding the temptation to strike an epic pose. The book begins simply and believably, much as The Fellowship of the Ring begins with Bilbo’s birthday celebrations. The story flows smoothly from event to event and the numerous histories and characters that populate the story have their own satisfying logic. Simply, they exist because they need to exist, and have a distinct place in this world; in short, each one advances the story without betraying the seams. In a story like this our inner critic turns off and we stop questioning the how’s and why’s of the piece: we simply relax and sink into the narrative, remembering what it was like to see an awe-inspiring sunset for the first time. It lingers in the memory long after the story and we find ourselves questioning whether the story was something we read or dreamed.

The author also has a happy knack with names, often the fantasy writer’s Achilles’ heel. Instead of going the Lord Dunsany route and coining impossibly arcane names such as “Bombasharna” or “Thangobrind” (though those have their charms!), she subtly changes names we know to make them sound unfamiliarly familiar (Wolflang, Zallucien, Cuthbire, Oomall, etc.).  Again, nothing in this story strikes the reader as artificial or cumbersome; it exists because it always existed, and we don’t poke at the goblins to see if they’re real. If I had to compare this work to any true precursor, I would choose the epic sword and sorcery works of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. However, this is Howard’s work without much of its male bravado; for while it indulges in his heroic excesses, it also thinks, reflects, and offers a level of human drama that was either beyond Howard’s capabilities of interests. So anyone who thrills at a flesh-and-blood fantasy tale, yet isn’t afraid to juggle a little introspection at the same time is game for this novel. It’s a fantastic achievement and one that ends all too soon for the reader. Time for Book Two!  

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  1. Great review. I enjoyed the story too, especially the unexpected twists and turns and near-miss plot threads. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Great review. I am convince that this needs to be in my library.


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