Acacia: Book One: The War With the Mein is David Anthony Durham's "debut" of sorts into the fantasy genre. He creates a world rich with myths, legends, history, culture, and differing races striving to co-exist in Acacia, the designated center of the The Known World. This first book, The War With The Mein, opens with a Mein assassin journeying from the arctic ice lands of the North on a mission to avenge his people who felt they were denied their place as rulers of the The Known World and banished to the ice lands centuries before. Upon the successful assassination of the King of Acacia; three of the four sheltered, pampered child heirs escape capture, scattered to differing parts of the kingdom under assumed identities. The Mein easily topple the sleeping Acacian capital and control the kingdom. Hanish Mein, handsome brother of the self-sacrificing assassin, occupies the palace and vows to capture the remaining Acacian heirs (preferably alive) to complete a blood oath to release the Mein's spiritual ancestors.
In the meantime, the heirs, separated during their flight from capture, mature in differing ways in disparate cultures over the next decade. The oldest son, Aliver, trains with the Talayans on the desert plains and enlists the aid of the mystical Santooth to avenge his father. The beautiful elder sister, Corinn, a prisoner in her own palace, becomes the concubine/lover of Hanish Mein. Third to the throne, Mena, is raised as a virginal priestess in a land that worships a sea Eagle and practices child sacrifice, and the youngest son, Dariel, is raised a swashbuckling pirate buccaneer.
Durham leans on his historical fiction background and blends a numerous, yet full bodied, cast filled with resonating histories, each contributing purposefully to the multi-layered plot and sub-plots. Much of the book establishes the complex histories, secrets, interrelationships of the Acacian people, their allies, enemies, and subjects. It also provides a detailed backdrop on the alliances, motives, and betrayals of court members and key figures with such deep conviction that initially, it is very difficult to sort the `good' from the `bad' guys.
I enjoyed the book and enjoyed how The Known World parallels reality in that there are multiple races that mimic reality. The reader will recognize a touch of ancient Nordic, African, and Arabian traditions and cultures that borrow from the Celtics and Aztecs. His creativity sparked in the creation of a feared group, The Leaguemen, a sea-faring group who specialize in the production and distribution of "the mist" and opiate-like drug that has stupefied most of Acacia into submission. The nations of Acacia struggle with slavery, war, greed, jealousy, drug addiction, and other social ills that have plagued mankind from creation. I am not sure if all of his "old" fans will embrace this novel; but there is no doubt that he will pick up new fans with this release. I'm looking forward to Book Two!
Reviewed by Phyllis
Nubian Circle Book Club