Although Viking lore is not usually in my reading wheelhouse, I was tremendously pleased to read this epic tale from J.A. Bullen. The world he crafts is huge in scope, not just visually - and that part is stunning - but in emotional scope, as well. He has internalized the old Norse myths and made them his own, with a flavor that is distinct, yet familiar.
The first of a series... and thank goodness for that!... this is a tale that you'll want to savor. I'm usually a person who reads multiple books simultaneously; yet I found that difficult to do with Unbound. This was not because it's difficult subject matter, complicated characters (although they delightfully are complicated), or stylized in a way that is not easily read. The reason I put all other reading material aside while reading Unbound is specifically because the story was so wonderfully crafted that I wanted to immerse myself fully in that world, with those characters, and distract myself with nothing else.
The characters are intuitively designed. You understand so much of who they are by what they do, and how they do it. The conflicts go back ages; and you understand it completely, even though the full history isn't yet revealed. The flow of the story from one location to another - both physically and emotionally - is easy to follow, and a wonderful journey. And that's exactly what this book feels like. It's a journey, an adventure, and it's visceral. You feel all of it... see all of it... hear all of it.
The aspect of Bullen's writing that makes reading his imagination most memorable, for me, is the way he conveys time. He doesn't mark the passage of time the way many books in the fantasy genre do... sunrise, sunset, moon cycles. That stuff is far too basic for his storytelling style. Instead, Bullen uses specific aspects of character and their environments to mark time. Footsteps observed by another. The change of the aroma of a healing wound. The mastering of a foreign language. All of these rich details give you a sense that you are marking time WITH the characters, rather than watching them from afar.
Also, his transitions from one perspective to another are excellent. Bullen is quite skillful at leading you along one subplot, and then shifting perspective to another, all without making you feel that there are empty holes in the main story line. He may leave out details, but he always knits them into the plot later down the path... except for the ending. But that's to be expected, after all, it is the first book in a series.
My only regret is that there were a few editorial notes that kept me from getting fully lost in the story. They were not insurmountable, nor overly distracting. But as an editor, I'm a little persnickety that way. :-) However, the author assures me that he has noticed these inconsistencies, and they will not prevail in the coming works.
I highly recommend you read Unbound... even if this genre isn't something you normally read. It's a diversion you will enjoy. And, if you are a writer, there is much you can learn about storytelling technique from this book.
Learn more about this author at his website.
Watch our interview with the author on Indie Reads TV!
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