Nef, and the Every Day Fairy Tale
A review of The Scrolls of Nef, by Gary Glickman, Hand to Hand Publishing
Seekers of genre Fantasy rabbit-holes will be surprised, perhaps, as the readers of excellent fantasy are, by the strong resemblance of people in Nef and surrounding kingdoms to people in our own ordinary lives. And seekers after the kind of precise reflection that realist-literature promises will be surprised, perhaps, that "real life" can so often resonate with the sound and shape of epic and fairy tale; we are all part of a larger story, after all, full of the drama of the age, if only we can raise the camera-angle sufficiently.
And that seems to be one of the energetic impulses of this novel of both epic sweep and intimate sensibility—to weave together the simultaneous realities of heroic and humble, archetypal and personal. The story-book reality of once-upon-a-time is filled with unglamourous, imperfect human relations; even the most sordid or humble moment is part of a powerful story, if only we can learn to recognize it.
Interestingly, The Scrolls of Nef can be read either as a fantasy or as a very realist memoir written by a king who by novel's end has reached a very old age, and narrates to his great-nephew. The eventual King-narrator, Orland, is a young man during most of the story, exiled by a fundamentalist empire from his childhood castle, and waiting out the war on the southern island of Nef, where his mother had once herself been the child of a king. Orland's older brother Talland is exiled in the northern mountains of their home country, healing from battle wounds in a secret mountain-top abbey run by half-crazed healer women. Orland escapes from Nef entrusted with the great treasures of his uncle's translated scrolls, and voyages through a vast archipelago hoping to bring them to safety. Meanwhile Talland learns heroism and selflessness just in time to save the women who saved him, and thereby tipping the balance of rebellion toward hope. Eventually, the two brothers come together to save the day, each with his own very different gifts.
A plot summary, of course, can only show the outline of a map, whereas the pleasure of the journey itself is in the music of the prose, the transformations of the characters, the exciting pacing of dangers risked and revelations attained, whether cheerful or heavy. As teenagers both princes are narrow and arrogant in opposite ways, and one of the great pleasures of this novel is watching the naiveté of youth successfully transcend its typical limitations and connect the characters with their innate heroic potentials. In that sense the brothers are Everymen, even though princes.
It remains to be seen if the portrait of an intolerant religious fundamentalist empire attempting to swallow tolerant Gaia-honoring cultures will offend real-life monotheist fundies— conversions by the sword and by burnings at the stake, that sort of thing—or if this very heart-centered fairy tale will be embraced as the treatise on love that it also is.