I had the privilege of reviewing in advance The Romance of Eowain: Third Tale in the Matter of Manred, by Michael E. Dellert. The book is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, and will officially be released on July 5th. You can secure your own copy here. I cannot stress enough how wonderful I found this book. It was everything I expect of a major work of Fantasy, and expertly crafted by a wonderful writer. At times, I forgot I was reading at all, which only ever happens with narratives that devour me as surely as I devour them.
When it comes to the genre of Fantasy, I’m notoriously picky in my selections. My tastes veer towards the classics–Tolkien, LeGuin, Stewart, Lewis. While this is normally bad news for newer fantasy authors, there are exceptions. Michael Dellert’s Matter of Manred series is one of these. I purchased, read, and reviewed the first two novellas in the series because I know Mike. We have some shared contacts and I admire his skill as an editor and a writer in other areas.
While the first two novellas were sturdy works of quality, they didn’t claim me body and soul the way my favorite fantasy works do. They are, in my estimation, preparation for the third work, which is more substantial. As such, they are essential reading. They establish the general context and logic behind the use of magic. The novellas also introduce the characters and allow the reader to become acquainted with the sociopolitical structure of Droma, a region within a patchwork of tribal territories and small fiefdoms modeled upon the Celtic world.
I don’t wish to give away any of the goodies I found upon reading The Romance, but I can’t wait to share my overall impressions with readers and fans of Dellert’s works. I found the third book absolutely delicious and devoured it in the space of two days. I couldn’t put it down, and thought more than once how lucky I was to be allowed an ARC.
Multiple tensions and themes are characteristic of Dellert’s other works in the series. The Romance is no different in this regard, as it develops separate story lines, charts the courses of the leading cast, and plays them off one another. But there was meat to this story. It began with a more settled sense of balance and continued until the last page–a supremely solid fantasy novel. Almost all of the characters were introduced in the first two works in the Matter of Manred, but the greater length allowed for better acquaintance. I was permitted a deeper understanding of the motivations, flaws, and strengths of each as they maneuvered through a complex plot.
Each individual theme carried its own burden of tension, which was masterfully heightened and shaped by Dellert. It’s not often that a book manages to seduce me into believing the characters are real. I always maintain a bit of perspective and restraint, and can put the book down if the needs of the real world beckon. Not so with this novel. It swallowed me whole, and only when I finished the last sentence, did I re-emerge, blinking like an owl in the sun.
The characters are now real to me. I’m wondering as I type this, “What will become of them? What will happen next?” Of course, I’m going to have to wait until Mike writes another book to find out, but that’s part of the exquisite agony that accompanies a series in progress. In general, I’m generous with my star ratings of books I feel are well written. Even works that don’t move me personally or alter my worldview in any way might receive 5 stars, because I can appreciate the care and work that went into writing them.
The ultimate mark of approbation, reserved for books that become a part of me, is that I am filled with the desire to read them again as soon as I’ve finished them, just to spend a little more time with the characters. This is the elusive and seldom-awarded “Sixth Star.” I give it to The Romance of Eowain. This work of fantasy is one I would recommend to everyone and their dogs (possibly also their cats, although felines are known to be horribly fickle in their literary preferences.)