Stop me if you’ve heard this one — a teenage boy of uncertain, mysterious parentage grows up in an isolated frontier town, longing for adventure. Contact with a dangerous force reveals the hidden identity of a nearby elderly man and sends the youth down a dangerous path, where he gathers unique allies, deals with a ruthlessly evil foe and ends up with the fate of the world in his hands. You can almost hear the lightsabers switching on, right? Or how about this one — a naive youngster in an isolated village comes in contact with a dangerous and ancient artifact that will give its user untold power, but corrupts and addicts him. Sounds like One Ring to Rule Them All, doesn’t it? Well, Jason King’s new book, Lure of Fools, has both of these elements — and plenty more that are familiar to fantasy and sci-fi fans — but it manages to overcome the sometimes derivative plot and some other issues with cool characters, a unique setting and a good use of cliffhangers to create a very engaging fantasy story.
The teenager in question is Jekaran who ends up discovering that his uncle (and adopted dad) was once the member of a feared band of thieves called the Rikujo — and has a super-powered magic sword hidden away. Some of the Rikujo, led by the brutal Kaul, show up looking for the sword and before you can say “Uncle Owen? Aunt Beru?” Jekaran has snatched up the magic sword and is off on his adventure, sneaking along the annual expedition to find a magic well. Complications ensue as his childhood friend Maely goes with him, disguised as a boy and Kaul closes in. I found the set-up more than a little familiar and King’s writing style didn’t particularly help. His use of modern words and phrases felt wrong in a fantasy setting, his action scenes were a little clunky, moved too fast and lacked impact and his character’s interior monologues often overpowered the main story. Thankfully, the complexities of the plot and the side characters won me over.
Jekaran encounters a kooky band of friends who end up traveling with him and helping him in his quest to protect the sword. There’s Karak, a friendly but still savage Lizard-Man shaman who insists that Jekaran is a chosen one meant to battle an incoming evil called The Eater. Irvis is a former member of the Rikujo turned monk, who tends to give in to his base urges and enjoys being a voyeur. Kariah is a purple-haired elf lady who Jekaran inadvertently saves. Her brother wants to wipe out humanity and Kariah is trying to stop him. She’s also in constant communication with her Spirit Lilly, a telepathic plant growing back in her home. Lizard-Men, voyeur priests and elf women with plant pals are certainly unique and King does a great job making them well-developed and fun characters. The multitude of plots — Kariah’s brother, Kaul’s pursuit, the Eater, and trying to protect the sword — creates a story that could have been a confusing jumble but King is able to keep them separate and clear until they clash in a bang-up climax that involves several awesome and magical machines and weapons coming together. When the book ends, some plot threads have been tied up, but it still concludes on a bit of a cliff-hanger. I’d certainly be up to reading the sequel.
King also does neat work with the enchanted sword. It chats telepathically with Jekaran and urges to be drawn and to kill people. It’s a nasty weapon and a good manifestation of the power and corrupting influence of violence. Evil enchanted swords are nothing new in fantasy — just have a look at Elric’s Stormbringer for an example — but King handled it well. It made me worried whenever Jekaran reached for the blade and in a genre where grabbing a sword and hacking apart foemen is usually a given, the non-violence subtext of Lure of Fools was a nice touch.
I ended up liking Lure of Fools quite a bit and — as I mentioned earlier — it seems that this is Book 1 of a series. I’ll wait for Book 2 where it will hopefully go from a story with a derivative beginning to a truly original fantasy tale.