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The Twisted Root Of Jaarfindor
Sean Wright
Crowswing paperback £5.99

review by David Hebblethwaite

I like a book that tries to something a bit different. The Twisted Root Of Jaarfindor doesn't so much do something different as systematically demolish most of the conventions of the fantasy genre and storytelling in general. On his website, Sean Wright namechecks Stephen King, Philip K. Dick, Terry Pratchett, Michael Moorcock, and China Miéville in the section on this book. It's a tall order, but he manages to draw inspiration from each of those writers whilst still creating a work that's wilfully, maddeningly, joyously all its own - and does so in just 150 pages at that.

Somewhere in this planet's distant past, the seven-foot-tall princess Lia-Va has taken over the throne of Elriad after her father was slain in single combat. Not that she's too sorry about the latter, because she was the one who killed him. Anyway, she may be ruler now, but she has more important things to do than rule - such as satisfying her root addiction with the root said to lie beneath the Church of Our Lady in Brafindor. She employs the mute back-eyes Islan to protect her, gains passage on the pirate sky-vessel Voyeur... and so begins a hallucinatory, blood-crazed (did I mention that Lia-Va can only get roots by killing people), bewildering journey through a wondrously bizarre world.

Wright clearly had great fun writing this book, but he also remembered to make it fun for the reader. He has a good ear for a gruesome image: "Her skin itched, as if a host of millipedes had burrowed under her flesh and were frantically trying to find a way out." (As you may have guessed, and as the author confirms himself in its introduction, this is not a book for the squeamish.)

But perhaps the greatest delight of The Twisted Root Of Jaarfindor comes not from its prose but from the way Wright gleefully rides roughshod over our expectations of storytelling. For instance, Lia-Va is neither a stereotypical sweet girlie princess, nor a stereotypical feisty warrior chick, but a thoroughly unpleasant, selfish addict. But that's just the start. Wright presents an immensely rich background (related to his 'Jesse Jameson' series, but there is no need to have read those books to understand and enjoy this one), but turns his back on it to focus on Lia-Va's personal obsession, just as she turns her back on her realm. Neither does he give his tale a real end or beginning (not that one notices until afterwards). But these are not weaknesses: they're entirely appropriate for what Wright is trying to do. In fact, many fantasy writers would do well to follow his example.

In sum, The Twisted Root Of Jaarfindor is a short (though not particularly sweet) book that packs a punch far greater than its physical dimensions would suggest. This is the only work of Sean Wright's that I've read to date, but it has placed him on my list of essential writers. Best of all, there's a sense that Wright could produce something even better. That's if he hasn't already done so; I should hurry up and find out.
Twisted Root of Jaarfindor

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