Eclasius Jortac and the Goblet of Fire (Review The Quest for Nobility)

23 Nov

The Quest for Nobility takes the classic coming-of-age narrative and brings it a new spark with engaging, empathetic characters and the spark of both science fiction and fantasy elements.

Most of my generation are debating the quiddity of Quidditch this month, as our childhood slowly comes to a close with the release of the first part of the seventh installment of that oh-so-obsession-worthy Harry Potter series.  It’s the beginning of the end of the end, I guess.

And maybe I just have Potter on the mind–it’s that time of year; I spent a whole lot of time in the midnight premiere line of Tuscaloosa’s lovely, highly inefficient Cobb Theater–but I do think that there’s something reminiscent of the Golden Trio in our new young heroes: the daring Darius Telkur, his clever twin sister Dyla Telkur, and their shy, gangly friend Eclasius.

When last we spoke of the feudal future, I predicted that Debra L. Martin’s and David W. Small’s novel The Quest for Nobility would be a cross between Dune and the War of the Roses.  I was wrong.

Martin and Small do create a world of dukes, duchies, and plenty of rival factions (there’s all sorts of fratricide going on).  And the fragmented Kingdom of Otharia even has a particularly unpleasant fellow named Nils, who works as resident assassin for a Baron determined to destroy the family of a liberal-thinking Duke.  Not to mention a young heir in exile who happens to be a telepath.  I mean, I imagine that’s exactly what Frank Herbert had as a summary for his first draft.  Political conspiracies, social metaphors, and–as the Bene Gesserit would say–wheels within wheels of plot complications were at the very heart of Dune.

These are not the strengths of The Quest for Nobility.

The vaunted praises heaped upon the late Duke Telkur (read Leto Atreides I) for his dangerous democratic ideals come across as  heavy-handed, and the plots against his children are child’s play.  As a history major, I was particularly irked by the misuse of the terminology of the aristocracy.  Here’s a guide for anyone who hasn’t taken a Renaissance history class, or watched an episode of The Tutors:

A Duke is addressed as “Your Grace.”  A Baron can be called “My Lord,” but call a Duke “My Lord” and you’re apt to be flogged.   Finally, “Royal” cannot be applied to anyone besides a king, a queen, or their children (and since Otharia hasn’t had a reigning king in over a century, even the Telkur twins aren’t royals–yet).

In any case, some of the details that would have made the aristocratic politics aspect of the novel believable are missing in The Quest for Nobility, but overall that’s a rather minor nitpicking sort of thing from a militant history student.

The story of Darius, Dyla, and Eclasius is readable, enjoyable, with more than a few laugh-out-loud moments.  None of that comes from back-room scheming: all of it has to due with the excellent characterization of the three young heroes, our own extraterrestrial Golden Trio.

The Quest for Nobility is strongest in the scenes between the three friends and traveling companions.  And because I’ve always believed that the characters are the most important driving force in a story, as I reader I could overlook a missed “Your Grace” just for the pure pleasure of experiencing Eclasius’s embarrassment when his telepathic friend Darius reads some inappropriate thoughts about Dyla in his baby-blue eyes.  When dealing with the interpersonal dynamics and relationships of the three teenage protagonists, Martin and Small are peerless.

This is where Potter mania comes in.

A young man on an epic quest has been the staple of good storytelling since the beginning of human history (I’m not bloviating here–go track down Gilgamesh, Telemachus, or Moses).  Maybe it’s something in the collective unconscious.  Or maybe it just makes a good story: Harry Potter’s seven-year-long journey kept an entire generation glued to the page for an entire decade.

The Quest for Nobility takes the classic coming-of-age narrative and brings it a new spark with engaging, empathetic characters (literally, Dyla’s an empath), and the spark of elements of both science fiction and fantasy. Not to mention, there really is a mysterious crystal goblet.

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