A Scroll of Years is the first novel about thief Imago Bone and poet Persimmon Gaunt. The pair have appeared in 5 short stories to date, and the first is included in this volume. Somehow this series has managed to fly under my radar. That’s something I’m going to need to fix. Looking at Willrich’s website, I may have read one or two but didn’t realize they were part of a series.
Anyway, Bone and a pregnant Gaunt are fleeing from Night’s Auditors. They are a pair of hit men who don’t merely kill their victims. In essence they steal their victims’ souls. They’re a pair of nasty dudes, and they have a dragon working for them. One of them controls a fire spirit. The other has a mirror embedded in his forehead which shows all possible things his victim might do. These guys are hard to kill, and they don’t give up easily.
Gaunt and Bone flee across the ocean to a land much like Imperial China. Gaunt has a mark forming on her belly that resembles two dragons. It’s a sign that the child she carries is someone a lot of powerful people want to get their hands on. Gaunt and Bone are going to need all the allies they can get.
The writing is rich and subtle, and Gaunt and Bone are foremost of a cast of delightfully flawed characters. Some fantasy novels are like a tankard of ale, intended to be slammed back. The Scroll of Years is of a more refined vintage, one in which you savor the writing as well as the story and characters. The story takes place over both months and years simultaneously. (That statement will make sense if you read the book, trust me.)
Gaunt and Bone have been compared to Fafhred and the Grey Mouser. I can see the resemblance, and I’d bet money that Fritz Leiber was one of Willrich’s influences. But that comparison runs the risk of limiting the characters or skewing a potential reader’s expectations. I see echoes of an earlier generation of writers in this book. Writers such as Ernest Bramah with perhaps a dash of Dunsany and maybe a pinch of Clark Ashton Smith. Plus a nod to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Leiber’s heroes were clearly cut from the same general cloth as Conan, inhabiting a milieu rooted in Western tradition where any portrayal of Eastern cultures were filtered to a greater or lesser degree through the West’s perceptions of the East. As Willrich notes in the Acknowledgements, this particular work is firmly planted in Chinese soil. The titular Scroll of Years is a concept I’ve not come across in much European based fantasy. And rather that detracting, the Chinese folk tales Willrich interjects into the story give it added depth and resonance.
The Scroll of Years is not like anything I’ve seen recently. Willrich has a fresh voice, and with this novel (I can’t speak for the short stories, not being familiar with them yet) he expands the boundaries of sword and sorcery.
The events in this book grow out of the short stories, and there are one or two passing reference to previous events that seem to refer back to them. Don’t let that stop you from picking this one up. You can enjoy The Scroll of Years on its own merits. The ARC I have says today is the release date (which is why I wrote the review today), but the author’s website says the 24th. Either way, look for a copy if this sounds like it might be your cup of tea. And if Pyr want to publish the short stories (with one or two new ones included, hint, hint), well, that would be fine with me.
I’d like to thank Lisa Michalski at Pyr Books for the review copy.