Sunday, November 4, 2012

What happens when the journey ends?

I'm almost done with Kelly McCullough's Broken Blade, Book 1 in his new Fallen Blade series.

The premise is fairly straightforward, narrated by one Aral Kingslayer, who has long since stopped using his moniker, preferring instead to work as a "shadowjack". His Holy Order fell several years back, and his goddess was killed by "the new gods"; the Son of Heaven now runs the government. Thankfully, Aral still has Triss, his shadow familiar. Triss, who exists as Aral's shadow, mostly hides as Aral's shadow, occasionally taking his "normal" shape of draconic shape.

Into his life of drunken forgetfulness walks Maylien, a girl dressed as a servant who wants Aral to do courier work for her. The price is more than generous, but the hob doesn't turn out quite as Aral imagined. Mainly because the Baroness Marchon, upon who's balcony he is to deliver the message, is having a clandestine meeting with Devin, another of the "Blades" whom Aral worked with in his Holy Order. Devin, it seems, has sold out his temple after the fall, becoming an assassin for hire. (The order killed people who were in need of their next turn on the wheel of karma, not murder for hire.)

Somehow, this set up begins awakening the old Aral, particularly after finding out that Maylien is the Baroness's elder sister and should have the barony, being tortured by people who know something about controlling shadow familiars, etc. It's less the hero's journey, and more an exploration of what happens after the hero returns home and find the world isn't what he left in the first place.

I've discussed McCullough's past series before (his WebMage pentad, concerning an alternate Earth wherein the universe runs on a computer based on Greek mythology. It's quite imaginitive and I loved all five books), and there are a few series I can point you towards that discuss what happens when Campbell ends and the hero continues to exist.

There is, of course, Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis's Dragonlance Legends trilogy, which while mostly being about time travel in a fantasy world, also shows this trope of what happens when a hero (Caramon) returns from heroing and can't get his life back together. By the end of Legends, Caramon has finally fixed his life and his relationship with his brother Raistlin. Well, sort of. For those of you who have never read the Dragonlance Chronicles or Legends, let's just say that Caramon and Raistlin don't have issues as much as they have volumes. Even if they are derivative of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (which isn't surprising, since he more or less set the groundwork for most modern fantasy. Not to mention, Frodo also finds he can't really go home again.), they remain good reads in their own right.

There is also Richard K. Morgan's A Land Fit for Heroes, which starts with The Steel Remains. I'm not sure how to describe this series. I started reading it because Ringil, one of the three major protagonists, is gay. The alien half-human is also bi, and hooked on a marijuana type drug. The third, a horseman from the outlands, has issues with his tribe forcing him out. The series is interesting, but very graphic, and every character tends to swear like a sailor on a golf course. There's also the rather graphic description of Ringil's boyfriend's public execution for being gay. However. there's an awful lot of densely packed plot involving another alien race making their return to Ringil's world and potentially enslaving the humans. Mind you, this provides motivation for the three war heroes (all three served in a previous war before the series starts fighting along side the rest of humanity against dragons and lizard armies. After the lizards were defeated, humanity returned to their warring states and leagues.) to get back together eventually, but in the mean time, we get a look at three lives of old war heroes more or less put out to pasture by the people they saved.

While the hero after the journey isn't quite a full cliche yet, the possibilities remain interesting, particularly juxtaposed again more modern and real issues of people returning from war and trying to reenter society. For most, they can do it; for others, it's it quite difficult. But no one returns unchanged, and I think that's why stories in this vein remain facinating.