The Eagle’s Flight by Daniel E. Olesen
Review by Jamie Edmundson
I first noticed Daniel Olesen’s The Eagles’s Flight in the 2017 Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. It was in the same section as Toric’s Dagger, and while neither book won through, they both made it to the semi-final stage, with Daniel’s book getting a rather more positive review than mine. It sounded like complex, historical, epic fantasy, which is right up my street, and so I treated myself to a read. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, though it’s a book that may not be for everyone. File under historical. With a capital ‘H’.
Like good epic fantasy should, The Eagle’s Flight gives us a feast of characters who inhabit the lands of Adalmearc. The point of view shifts from one character to the next with rapidity. Yes, some people don’t like this, but I do, and I appreciate that the writer trusts that I am intelligent enough to cope with it. The first part of the book centres on the capital, Middanhal, where the powerful nobility gather and politic in the reign of a vulnerable child king. The houses of Isarn and the Vale feud over political office – we are introduced to the leaders of each house, their brothers, children, cousins – and then, there are lesser houses, each with their own ambitions. Some men serve the Order, a military organisation whose duty is to preserve the unity of the kingdom and serve the royal house. Some serve in the Order while also serving themselves. Two characters who stand out are Athelstan, a famous knight and younger brother of the Duke of Isarn, and his squire Brand, scion of a family with royal blood.
In the second part we are transported to Haethiod, a border region where a foreign army has invaded. A new cast of characters are introduced here, including the young Queen of Haethiod, Theodora, the domineering dowager queen Irene, and Lord Leander, illegitimate son of the previous king. Finally, we return to Middanhal, where the complex politics of the capital have led to a state of war.
Given the highly medieval setting, the main movers and shakers in the story are noblemen, but we also follow characters with lower social standing and a number of female characters, who operate in a typical male dominated, medieval society. There is the odd elf and dwarf character, but these are fairly peripheral to the story, in this first volume at least.
I think it is fair to say that this book focuses on world-building and plot, and is therefore less character driven. The characters aren’t as obtrusive as you may find in A Game of Thrones or Joe Abercrombie’s books. But they are arguably more realistic, behave logically, are motivated by their own desires and loyalties, and I found the huge cast to be memorable and I cared what happened to them.
This is one of the strengths of the book, in particular the historical accuracy which underpins this creation of a medieval European fantasy world. Yes, nothing original about doing this, but it is done very well, which is more important. Right from the beginning, the world is given centre stage, as the narrator introduces the lands of Adalmearc to the reader. We are not yet looking through the eyes of any particular character, and Olesen often starts chapters with this omniscient view.
This is a fully thought out, functioning world. Does the reader need all the detail? Personally, I like this kind of detail to fully immerse myself in a fantasy story. But I know some people will be running for the hills at the thought of this overwhelming historicity. And that’s OK, not everyone’s the same. Can you stand one character asking a second about battle tactics to allow the author to give a lecture on army formations? This can be a bit clunky. But the trade-off is battle scenes and sieges where characters have to make real choices with the resources available to them. And honestly, this is pretty rare in fantasy. There are no supermen here who can wield a sword and defeat an army. Archers don’t have limitless supplies of arrows. Generals can’t raise armies in a day. You get the point.
Finally, this is a fantasy book, is there any magic? Well. There are hints of it, of a bigger story emerging in the later books. But much like GRR Martin in A Game of Thrones, Olesen has kept tight control over this storyline to allow himself the space to introduce a realm largely inhabited by humans.
So, without giving too much away, we have internal power politics driving the plot, the kind of strife that can divide people in the same realm. Then, an old threat returns. The border defences are breached by outlanders, a people who have raided in recent generations but now lead an army into Adalmearc. And, perhaps, the two are somehow connected. Can the rulers of Adalmearc unite to fend off the more serious threat? Olesen does a good job of not overfeeding us here, so that we are still not clear about the exact nature of this external threat…
…and that brings us to a question – Daniel, when the hell is the next book coming out? This one was apparently published in 2016. It’s a meaty read at 500 pages and I have no doubt was a time-consuming thing to write. But hopefully book two is coming soon. I will certainly be encouraging people to read this one – no doubt Daniel would appreciate a purchase, but he is also giving away free copies on his website and through Sigil Independent, where loads of cool fantasy writers hang out.