Saturday, June 25, 2011

Monument

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by Ian Graham

When I finished reading Monument, a profound sense of sadness lingered within me. This story is unlike any other fantasy novels which I had feasted upon; this is way darker and within each page, death looms and hope is an optimist's dream. There were no heroes in the story, nor were there villains; everyone carried their own darkness, and it was obvious that everyone was far from perfect.

The story revolved around the person known as Ballas - a vagrant, a drunk, a vermin, a scum; in him lied the vices of all men, and while he was the protagonist of the story, he was not a hero. As such, he was beaten to within an inch of his life when the story began, and a priest took pity upon him and ministered to his wound. Ballas was no stranger to disrespect and violent treatment from people around him, but being treated kindly was something new, and he was uncomfortable with it. His nature took hold, and from those who treated him kindly, he stole.

A praise to Graham - his art of storytelling is uncommon yet extraordinary, and the characters are all unlike any other story. Most stories satisfied themselves with a protagonist that is noble or heroic, and set off those stories through some noble quests. Of course there were the not-so-heroic ones, who acted more like anti-heroes yet still possess their own reason and will end the story with a heroic and noble deed to save the day. Monument did no such thing. The protagonist is as much a villain as you can get, yet his actions and motives perplexed me; whenever you thought that there is a hero lying within the heart of Ballas, his next deed will leave you questioning his motive.

As interesting as protagonists go, Ballas was the most unusual one. I seldom come across a character as selfish and uncaring as he did, and none as ruthless. He was not an anti-hero, which is usually associated with a protagonist lacking the archetypal heroic demeanor; Ballas was just downright self-serving, and will stop at nothing to get whatever he wants. He will betray everyone if he thinks that it will serve himself and save his hide. He will help no one, and everyone was a tool to him for aiding him on his path to Belthirran, the fabled Land Beyond the Mountains in Monument, a rumored land which he struggled hard to reach in order to escape from the powers-to-be. All this bring us to the story - a chronology of his blood-stained path to Belthirran, killing and betraying all the way to his destination.

Not only was Ballas the only character who was selfish and uncaring - the whole world of Druine was filled with such characters. Most characters within the fable were self-serving and disloyal. The few good people and other common people in Monument did not fare well in the end, either dead in the hands of raving mad rabbles, in the hands of vengeful characters or from the doings of self-serving powerful figures. All these cast a pessimistic gloomy mood across the whole adventure, shadowing Ballas in his journey across Druine.

Although Monument is no happy story, it does deserve my praise for providing a fresh twist of plot and how it utilized real world parallels to ignite our imagination. The atmosphere of Monument is reminiscent of Europe during the Dark Ages; the land of Druine is under the totalitarian control of the Pilgrim's Church, and their control over the common people's life elicited fear in them. This is not unlike the shadow the Roman Catholic Church cast over Europe before the Renaissance and Reformation. Apart from drawing a parallel from the Dark Ages, Graham also borrowed the concept of Elysian Fields, the Greek land of the dead for the virtuous, and created the Eltheryn Forest in Monument.

The story also revolved around the artifact sivis, which was known as 'monument' in the language of the Lectivin, a race that was wiped out in the story, hence the title. Monuments are usually artifacts honoring the dead, and most of the time they exist as some colossal or grand architecture. In the story however, this monument is the disc shown in the book's cover, with one large blue gemstone in the middle and another four smaller ruby-like gem. Although the sivis only appeared briefly in the story, it affected the larger picture by setting Ballas' path into motion.

Another interesting way of storytelling from Graham was his recounting of a seemingly unrelated history of the Pilgrim's Church. On the beginning of each chapter was a poem which told the story of the four Pilgrims, on which the religion was founded on. Chapter after chapter the history recounted the journey of the Pilgrims while Ballas made his way to Belthirran, and unknowingly, the history actually tied closely to the story.

Monument is definitely a change of scenery from the usual fantasy stories. Be warned though, do not expect a happy ending to it, nor expect that Ballas be your favorite hero of the year. If you are looking for a fresh story that is extraordinary, then do get your hands on this.


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