‘Remember our oath, my friend,’ old Tsongor said. ‘You are merely taking back what I own you. Remember your wife. Your brothers. The land I burned and trampled underfoot. I do not deserve your tears.’
I could probably sum up this book in five words: This book is beautifully written. It probably appears even more so in its original French, but unfortunately as I don’t speak French I can only comment on the English translation. It is a fantasy story set in a strange land, but unlike other epic tales that could be described in exactly the same way, Death of an Ancient King isn’t overly complicated, isn’t heavy on back stories, and doesn’t have a cast of a thousand characters, the names of which you can never quite remember. This is simplicity at its best.
The King in question is King Tsongor, who is preparing to give his daughter away in marriage to her official suitor, the Prince of the Lands of Salt. But on the eve of her marriage, a mysterious figure arrives at the castle, claiming that he is the one who should have the hand of Princess Samilia. What follows is a series of hauntingly beautiful prose about King Tsongor, the childhood experiences of Samilia and her original betrothed, Sango Kerim, and what effects the death of the King has on the future of the kingdom that he built in his youth, thanks to the slaughter of innocent civilians.
The simplicity of the sentence structure is really appealing and emphasises the power of minimalism – so much is said in so few words. Some novels, particularly in the fantasy genre, can get a bit bogged down in detailed descriptions and character back stories, and although sometimes this can enrich the story, Death of an Ancient King proves it is by no means necessary. The book is fast paced, and yet slow and artfully constructed, as though care was taken over the selection of every word. It helps to give a real sense of the age of the characters – that of the old King and his lifelong servant Katabolonga; slow and methodical and determined (one of my favourite characters), are juxtaposed with the youthful vibrancy of Samilia and Sango Kerim. I liked the over use of characters names in the text, as it served to make the relationships seem so real and heartfelt.
I wanted nothing, she thought. I simply accepted what was offered to me. No one asks anything of me. I am here. Motionless. Looking out on the hills. I am a Tsongor. I too shall do battle.
I feel like I have a lot to say about this book, but at the same time it is hard to describe. The story is captivating, but perhaps it was the style of writing that helped it to really stick in my mind. Plus, I absolutely love the cover. Again, it is simplicity at its best.
She now had confirmation of what she had always known. Misfortune lay heavy upon her, and it would never leave her now.