Friday, December 2, 2016

Swan Knight's Son: Chapter One

"Gilberec Parzival Moth woke up, startled, when a large black raven landed on his chest at midnight."

So begins our latest adventure,  The Swan Knight's Son, by John C. Wright.  As usual, we are being introduced to a sprawling fantasy world one bite of information at a time.  Where Roger Zelazny started with a god-like man recovering from amnesia, John C. Wright presents us with a young man who never knew his birthright.  His ability to speak with animals, his silver hair, and his family's nomadic lifestyle clue him into the fact that his is not a normal life, but as a mundane person with only glimpses of the magic surrounding him, and no father to guide him into the magic world behind the veils, he's pretty much on his own.

I couldn't tell you how often Wright's characters start off like this, but I can tell you that Somewhither starts out much the same way.  In that novel the main protagonist is also a teenage boy on the cusp of manhood, who knows there's more out there than anyone is letting on, but who doesn't have the full facts of his genesis.  It's a fine story-telling technique that eases the reader into a sprawling world one bite at a time, but it's handled much better in Somewhither than it is here.  In Somewhither the revelations are driven largely by the action, and the protagonist uncovers information of his own accord.  As we will see later, much of the reveal in Swan Knight's Son comes as pure expository dialogue handed to Gilberec by a character already neck deep in the fantasy part of the setting.

Swan Knights of Dol Amroth, by Games Workshop
The world of the elfs touches upon all other worlds
So what do we know about our hero?  He thinks of himself as Gil, he can talk to animals, and he recently had his ass handed to him by parties unknown.

While walking home from the park bench the raven had woken him from, he encounters an odd sort of gypsy funeral/parade, hears a clock strike thirteen, and hides inside a nearby church where he meets a mysterious hooded stranger.  The stranger claims to rebuild churches - later we'll learn how important that little nugget truly is - and for the first time speaks with somebody who can confirm the existence of a world beyond the mortal world. 

The setting of this meeting, inside a dilapidated church, subtly primes the reader for the coming journey ahead.  This scene shows us that more than one world exists beyond our own.  In addition to the strange events Gil has witnessed his entire life - shadowy people walking in the hour between midnight and thirteen o'clock, black barges attended by silvery maidens, and talking animals - there is a world beyond death where a man is destined to meet his maker.  Just as the realms of the elfs sometimes intrudes upon the mortal realm, sometimes the Kingdom of Heaven, and the power of the Christian faith, intrudes upon the otherwise secular and worldly setting of Gil's childhood.  The strange robed man in the church drops numerous veiled hints, and his ability to repair churches without tools and to pass through nailed shut doors provide more obvious indications of such.

And so our first chapter ends with Gil escaping the boarded up Church the next morning, and making the two hour slog home through the dawn.  He might be able to see elfs in the night and speak with animals, but he still has to walk home when he misses the bus.  And he still has to confront a scared and angry mother when he gets there.


  1. Good observations.

    Swan's Knight's Son does feel like it starts more slowly than Somewhither; however, the first chapter of the latter covers maybe 5 minutes of action - all the rest is digression as Ilya fills us in by recalling events and people. The 1st few chapters, until he leaves this world, are almost nothing but expositions. The action that does take place is intense - at least, until he gets to the museum. then it slows to a (literal) crawl before picking up again.

    No big point or anything, just saying it's not exactly action versus exposition that sets the openings of the two stories apart. Rather, in the 1st chapters, Gil is slid out of danger and into fairyland and mostly observes rather than does, while Ilya is facing a couple questions and moral quandaries that need answering NOW.

    Both have evasive single parents. Ilya's dad sort of fesses up right off the bat; Gil's mom take 2+ books to come clean, more or less. And there's that whole letter from dad thing in Somewhither, which makes Ilya's ignorance more his fault than his dad's.

    Looking forward to the rest of your Wright-up

  2. In Count to a Trillion, we are introduced to Menelaus Montrose in a similar fashion. Fortunately, he is a child only for two chapters, as a teen cannot sail across the stars in a light sail spaceship, nor master the exotic math needed to prevent cellular decay caused by biosuspension. Nor would Gil as a teen be so foolish as to inject strange alien logic directly into his brain like the adult Montrose did. Both do, however, have a penchant for fights and duels...