Wow, when you google for reviews of The Mountain of Kept Memory, you sure get A WHOLE LOT of hits that cite the NPR review: “The Mountain of Kept Memory” Is A World To Get Lost In. Which is great! I hope lots of people read this review and immediately go buy the book.
But one tidbit that struck me is how this reviewer, Jason Heller, distinguishes between “traditional fantasy” and “innovative, trailblazing” fantasy. I am sure there is a lot of what Heller would call traditional fantasy still being published, a lot of it ranges from quite good to excellent, and there are lots of readers who enjoy it. (I’m also sure Heller wouldn’t disagree.)
But I suspect that professional reviewers and critics are drawing a line that perhaps feels less obvious to those who read less fantasy, or read less critically, or just read less.
I can think of a few recent fantasy novels that seem “innovative” and “trailblazing” to me — The Fifth Kingdom, say, and Redemption in Indigo if that still counts as recent — but I don’t think I read as widely as Heller. (I don’t have time; I’m writing.) But I am always happy to sink into a traditional fantasy, even if I also enjoy many books that would probably count as innovative.
Well, well, I’ll have to think about this more, because it’s interesting.
Meanwhile, from Heller’s review:
We live in an exciting era where the genre of fantasy is being restlessly reinvented by a fresh wave of innovative, trailblazing authors. But someone forget to tell Rachel Neumeier that. Her latest standalone novel, The Mountain of Kept Memory, chugs along with blissful conventionality, as if the last couple decades of evolution in fantasy never happened. The key word here, though, is blissful. … Neumeier knows how to spin myths and archetypes, and Mountain oozes them. Aristocracies vie for influence. Artifacts are keys to hidden power. Magic is a real yet mysterious force. It’s nothing that veteran fantasy authors like Guy Gavriel Kay, Raymond Feist, and Patricia McKillip haven’t done a million times before. Then again, that’s strong company to be in.
So you see. If I were picking the very best fantasy writers of the modern day, GGK and McKillip would be vying for the top spot, so this take on Mountain certainly works for me.
It seems that Heller is having the same reaction to Mountain that I had to Sharon Shinn’s Elemental Blessings series. That was an instant comfort read for me. I wasn’t really thinking of Mountain as a comfort read necessarily, but it’s certainly fine with me if readers respond to it that way!
However, I also note that Nicole Hill’s review at Barnes and Noble — The Mountain of Kept Memory is High Fantasy Worth Remembering — puts “traditional” in quotes when referring to Mountain.
On the surface, we have all the typical elements of epic fantasy: a kingdom in trouble, foreign enemies on all sides, magical relics, and a goddess with more to tell. But the knot of young people at the heart of the plot … have distinctly modern voices, and a mindset of measured practicality when it comes completing their various quests … Neumeier is an accomplished hand at YA science fiction and fantasy, and she brings some of that style to this “traditional” fantasy effort. The narrative journey of The Mountain of Kept Memory, littered with war golems and competing loyalties, is enjoyable, painting a familiar picture with a newer brush, hiding intricacies in the broad brush strokes for those who look closely (there’s a question, for instance, of how much of this is fantasy, and how much is science fiction). Moreover, the protagonists, and even the assorted secondary characters, are all likable, even as they are opposed. In the age of the anti-hero, that’s as refreshing a change of pace as any.
Yes, I hope so! Up with “noblebright” fantasy, is what I always say. Emphatically.
I do hope these exact reviewers also read The White Road of the Moon and The Dark Turn of Winter. I would be curious to see how they respond to those.
Anyway … early reviews, always an exciting time!