S.E. rating: 4 of 5 stars
Walter Rhein’s The Reader of Acheron is 'A Reader-Haunted World' (yes, that is a call-out to Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.)
Rhein begins with a bunch of characters struggling to survive in a futuristic earth in which reading is prohibited. Three key individuals emerge as tour guides. Two are the sword-swinging duo of Quillion and Cole who are reminiscent of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (famous Sword and Sorcery adventurers which share brawn and some intellect). The third is Kikkan, a slave who is rather like Marvel’s Hulk.
This is a fast reading narrative, with well-placed doses of humor, horror, and brutal fighting. The pacing is spot on. The conflict is ever present and breathtaking; the plight of Kikkan the slave is most compelling. To avoid spoilers but still highlight Kikkan’s drama, the below excerpt is taken from Kikkan’s first appearance; here his owner was encouraged to demonstrate his power over his property:
"He dropped his head to Duncan’s boot. The road smell was upon it. The dirt and the filth of miles of walking. The sweat of man and animal imbibed the leather. The scent of urine and fecal matter, all the trappings of a farm. Kikkan’s command was to clean the boot. But it was not enough to clean it. It had to be cleaned absolutely. Kikkan extended his tongue. The work began."You’ll be rooting for Kikkan to overcome his oppression, but beware; Rhein rapidly takes Kikkan into even more emotive scenes that will leave you breathless. Like most dystopic fantasy (from Planet of The Apes, The Hunger Games, and Fahrenheit 451), the author invites readers to consider humanity’s societal flaws. And it is not just the possible re-emergence of slavery that is posited; many other group behaviors are on display here, the most obvious being state-based censorship (book burning), but also drug-use and blind-obedience to institutions (religious and political). Actually, the author’s voice occasionally sneaks through too strongly via Kikkan (whose articulate dialogue is a bit too refined given his life).
In summary, The Reader of Acheron is entertaining dystopia with intellectual depth. This establishes (a) an interesting dystopia and (b) a group of interesting characters to explore it. With such a solid foundation in place, this screams for a sequel. Indeed some places refer to this as "The Slaves of Erafor- Volume 1", so expect more!
View all my reviews