Now that a bit of time has passed, I'd like to share some reviews that have been written about the book. When people review my book, I know they've taken the time to think about it. I don't make any comments on reviews, because they are other people's opinions, and I respect that. However, if you're considering reading my book, the reviews might interest you.
When Rafen was four, the Tarhians branded him with three little numbers: 237. King Talmon of Tarhia forced Rafen to work in the coal mine with his other slaves. Yet at twelve, Rafen is desperate to escape and find the phoenix feather he has dreamed about for so long. However, even if he does leave Tarhia, will he ever know true freedom? For Rafen’s name links him to a legendary figure in ancient prophecies, and the sorcerer Lashki Mirah means to kill him for it.
Let me tell you what I like about Y. K. Willemse’s book Rafen. First up, she breaks the rules of epic fantasy, and in a good way. There are no elves, dwarfs or goblins here (at least not yet, it is the first book of a series). Here we have fantasy characters named Robert and Thomas and Fritz rubbing shoulders with others with more “conventional” fantasy names like Rafen and Etana and Talmon. Here we have fights (well-written ones, too) where the fantasy characters draw pistols as well as swords, and where warships pound each other with cannons. I like the fact that Willemse has gone against the current of expected fantasy tropes and produced a work that, above all else, tells a darn good story. I felt genuine concern for the protagonists. The Lashki Mirah (the head bad guy) is suitably nasty and repulsive. Willemse has a keen eye for detail, but doesn’t weigh her story down with excessive amounts of it. Instead, she lets us know just what we need to know at the right time. I look forward to the rest of the series - rjpaus, five stars.
A gentle, pre-teen to young adult fantasy story that is a nice, easy read. Some small errors, such as using French fencing terms and using a rifle crack as an example of a sound in a world that has no guns do not greatly detract from the story line. Names like Bambi and Annette do not flow so well with the mythical names and language of the story, but don't spoil the richness of the world too much. All in all a pleasant escape and one I'm sure any young teenager would enjoy - ucat42, four stars.
Great character development, plenty of concepts to ponder and anticipate the further development of, and interesting theological parallels to consider. I dropped one star because I felt some aspects were a little overemphasised and "unrealistic", such as Rafen's terrible conditions prior to freedom - though that is a matter of personal taste only. This is definitely well worth your time and money to read - Samuel Hight, four stars.
I really enjoyed this book. Rafen has a nicely unpredictable plot and interesting characters, and the author has created a fascinating fantasy world to set the story in. My only complaint would be that I wanted to know more about the details of Rafen's world, the countries and cultures etc. Hopefully the coming books will flesh out this delightful story in that regard - Amazon Customer, five stars.
There is a lot to like in the series. I like the fact that fights take place using guns. I like that fact that there are no elves or dwarfs or hobbits or any of those other “required” races in high fantasy. I even like the fact there is no world map of the Mio Pilamúr* in the books: Willemse does have one she drew up and I have seen a copy of it in an email. But it’s not in the books and that’s a good thing. It means I can imagine what her world is like, I am involved in the creation process.
I also like the fact that so far Willemse has managed to avoid the two major plot lines of high fantasy: the War and the Quest (or both). The Quest is a major theme of high fantasy: the plucky hero goes off to save the world either by finding some desperately powerful McGuffin or getting rid of it. The War theme is exactly what it says. Often there is a War going on while a Quest is being fulfilled.
I don’t know whether there is a War planned for the series – there’s definitely an excuse for one, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it does come in due course. But what Willemse had produced in the first two books is a Bildungsroman. And if you don’t know what that is, it’s a literary genre (by no means restricted to high fantasy but sometimes forming part of it) that focuses on the protagonist’s psychological and moral growth from youth to adulthood.
Willemse’s protagonist, Rafen, starts out as a boy at the beginning of the series, a slave in a coal mine, and over the course of the series develops as a character, makes mistakes, rebels, loves, hates, triumphs, falls again, and ultimately (we hope) wins out over the bad guy. In other words, this series is about the main character growing up. The fact that he is fighting elemental forces of evil is a nice addition on which to hang the story of Rafen’s life. But ultimately the series is about Rafen’s clash with evil rather than the clash of good and evil in the first place.
And this is what makes Willemse’s saga such a refreshing thing. The main focus of the series is a character. Not a magic ring or a map or an invented world or some fantasy creature like an elf (be honest, how many actual elves do you know in real life?), but a raw, vulnerable, fallible human being. So far, Willemse hasn’t let the Mio Pilamúr and all that it contains overshadow the main point of the story: Rafen himself - excerpt from Russell Proctor's Human Focused High Fantasy.
Rafen is the first of a multi-book series, and I have to say that after this first one, I’m intrigued about where YK Willemse will take her story next. In some ways, the book runs along familiar lines: scruffy down-and-outer rescues kidnapped princess, and they fight (fantastic) baddies. In other ways, the story surprises and startles. Rafen starts out as a slave, maltreated in various horrible and age-inappropriate ways (the main characters are aged 12 and 11, but don't let that fool you--Rafen is intended for an older audience), so that reading the first half of this novel was a bit like reading Unbroken—you understand and appreciate the realism, you just wish it would let up for a bit.
I found plenty to like. Willemse's best characters are wonderful. They don't stand on their dignity; even the noblest ones have flaws, while even the some of the worst earn our sympathy. There are also some interesting philosophical quirks inherent in the story. I can't recall the last time a novel reminded me so forcefully of Plato's Cave. And as the plot develops, a thread of allegory weaves into the story, suggesting some very interesting future developments.
I had a few criticisms. Though most of the time it flowed nicely, I can see some room for improvement in the writing style. While most of the characters were sympathetic and well-developed, I found a couple of the supporting characters, towards the end, rather flat. Names like Arlene and Bambi were a little distracting next to names like Rafen and Talmon. I found the drama leaning over into melodrama for the first half—and I have never appreciated protagonists who yell at people who are trying to help them in italicised capslock.
(Which are all complaints I had about the Harry Potter books. So Yvette's in good company).
So I wasn’t swept away by this novel. But I did find it a solid effort, and I am intrigued about watching YK Willemse as she continues to mature as an author. Most of all, I was delighted by Yvette's writerly boldness. She pulls no punches, whether it's the often very realistic abuse and trauma suffered by her main character, or the joy and gusto she shows in constructing her larger-than-life characters. True, not all her punches connect, but every so often, she hits home, and one is able to stop and bask in a wonderful bit of nobility, hope, or pathos. YK Willemse has thrown herself into this book unreservedly...and perhaps the best description of it is the one she gives on her own website: in Rafen, "outrageously busy fantasy fiction wallops you in the eye." And the result, though somewhat scattershot, is nothing if not engaging and lovable - excerpt from Suzannah Rowntree's article Rafen by Y K Willemse.
Rafen: available on Amazon or Book Depository.
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