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
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.