The Tale of Telsharu

The Tale of Telsharu by Valerie Mechling & Samuel StubbsAuthors: Valerie Mechling & Samuel Stubbs
Publisher: InquisitiveDesign (2012)
Number of Pages: 366
How long it took me to read: 2 weeks
Where I got this book: Uncustomary Book Submission
ISBN: 978-0983400615

Like a Moth to a Flame

Does it make me slightly racist that I’ve always been attracted to Asian paraphernalia? I’m one-quarter Japanese, but I’ve never so much as met my Japanese grandmother, much less internalized any of her culture. I’ve always been, felt, generically white. People sometimes notice that I’m just a touch exotic, but, since I grew up in California, most passersby assumed that if I was anything besides Scots-Irish/German/French/Whatever then I was probably part Hispanic. Never having had an ethnicity per se, I’ve always considered myself Blank-American. Maybe this gaping hole in my identity is why I picked up The Tale of Telsharu, an Asian-inspired fantasy novel written by Valerie Melchling and Samuel Stubbs.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “The cake blossoms upon the tongue like the tree that bore its fruit for your table.” (p.10)

4. “Aisina could feel the vision coming to fruition around her, like a groundswell. Flickering moments from her prophecy flashed upon her sight as they came to pass in reality. She did not have time to contemplate what I meant—she fought for her life like everyone around her. She did not know when her hair had fallen loose, but during a brief pause, she twisted it into a quick knot so it would not obscure her sight. The heat of the violence all around her matched that of the flames.” (p.222)

3. “With the pack strap adjusted, Daryun pressed on at a steady pace. Travel afoot had always been lengthy and arduous, depending on what regions one happened to be crossing. The Seventh Empire was a vast and varied land created from several smaller kingdoms and nations. Some had joined so long ago that they did not remember being separate. Others had more recently allied with the divinely chosen emperors and empresses of the Seventh Empire. Each region of the empire had its own governor, its own local government, and therefore its own individual level of maintenance, militia, wealth, and poverty. Once Daryun reached the central region, home of the capital city, the going would become easier on well-traveled roads. But for now, he slogged through muddy trails after the morning rain, and within the confines of his mind, he maligned the northern governor’s incompetence.” (p.70)

2. “Their swords locked. Telsharu could feel Hanu Zan’s heavy breathing on his skin. Telsharu readied himself for a quick twist, but then he saw the outline of Hanu Zan’s open palm. He moved his head to the side, expecting a face-strike. But Hanu Zan’s palm smashed into Telsharu’s chest, forcing the shard still buried in Telsharu’s chest deeper. Telsharu was flung backwards, coughing and spluttering flecks of blood.” (p.311)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1.‘You claim to be a force of justice… Ha! Whichever way I plead I will end up the same. You will pass your predetermined judgment upon me, even if I were innocent as a newborn babe! What justice is there in unwilling dictatorship? The Yu-goachi only follow you out of fear of your justice. Your rule is a mockery of justice! I would find more justice in the wild jungle that I find here at the feet of my supposed ruler. Perhaps you could send me there. I think I’d prefer the company of apes!’ ” (p.83)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“I was a little worried after flipping through the appendix and seeing how big the cast of characters was going to be. A large cast can make a novel unwieldy, especially if all the characters need to have something told from their point of view. However, I’m glad to see that so far, Mechling and Stubbs have limited themselves in terms of perspective characters and have also made good choices as to who those characters would be. A failing of a lot of fantasy authors is to use different characters’ perspectives in different parts of the story, for plot reasons, but these characters, despite being entirely separate human beings, see the world in exactly the same way. I think the point-of-view characters in The Tale of Telsharu were specially selected to give a wide range of perspectives on the story’s events. I’m curious to see how these characters will come into contact with one another and how their worldviews will inevitably clash.

“Most of these point-of-view characters are also protagonists, which is another nice touch. I think something that’s glossed over in a lot of good-versus-evil literature is that, in the real world, good people disagree all the time. Maybe Sir Fights-a-lot, our first protagonist, wants to go show the resident Lord of Darkness, the villain, that he means business by knocking off some heads; why would Princess Pacifist, our second protagonist, go along with that just for the sake of the plot?

“Perhaps because of my lack of ethnic identity, the only culture I really identified with growing up was that of The Church—I grew up in a small congregation that was basically the Protestants to the Protestants. There are a lot of them dotted throughout the U.S., and they are especially prevalent in the South. I met many good people in that congregation, people who mentored me and watched me grow up like I was one of their own. However, it was a culture that isolated itself, made itself ‘separate from the World.’ There was an assumption that if you believed in evolution, you must be an idiot. If you voted Democrat, you were probably a communist. If you had sex before you were married, you were a hormone-driven deviant. If you allowed your children to watch PG-13 movies, you were a moral reprobate. I could go on. These things were rarely said aloud, but there was always an undercurrent of disdain. Anyone who didn’t see the world the way we saw it, well, there was something wrong with how their brain worked: they were either stupid or evil. But as I got older and was exposed to different kinds of people (I thank God every day that my parents sent me to public schools—an unusual prayer, I know), I realized that The Church’s stark lack of empathy for anything not of The Church did not result in any conversions; it drove people away. And in my heart, I found I couldn’t blame those people for running away as fast and as far as they could.

“I really enjoy reading about good characters disagreeing with each other because I’m very passionate about helping people see that someone disagreeing with you doesn’t make that person stupid or evil. Disliking the idea of a welfare state doesn’t mean you hate poor people. Believing that quality sex education is important doesn’t mean you want to promote promiscuity. Wanting to completely decimate an army of orcs peacefully making camp on the other side of the forest because you’re afraid your village is about to be pillaged doesn’t make you a bloodthirsty killer. Assuming the worst of your opponents in an argument doesn’t accomplish anything. Civil discourse is a dying art, and I feel like I get the front row seat to its death throes every day. I hear it in line at the grocery store when I eavesdrop on the conversation between the teller and another customer; I read it in a comment-box diatribe posted on one of the blogs that I peruse; and I see it on every single news commentary show on television. It’s an inescapable phenomenon, and it makes me wince every time. All I’ve ever wanted is for everyone around me to get along, and a little part of me wants to shrivel up and hide from all the unnecessary conflict around me, hold up my hands like I’m warding off a punch to the face. Being able to read a book where the conflict is not only necessary but engaging is a desperate breath of fresh air.”

“When I was in college, I was the president of a small creative writing club. Students would come in, pass around as many manuscripts as they bothered to print off, read their written work aloud, and then take feedback from the other students and the occasional professor. We had a couple of amateur fantasy authors who showed up every week to give us the next chapter of their epic saga. And while they committed many crimes against language, there was nothing that made me want to crush their little, fragile freshman egos into dust (I wasn’t a very nice president) more than their complete and utter abuse of linguistics when it came to making up names and terms for their stories. I don’t care if the love between King Brimabaralara and his effervescent consort Queen Ashotumarokatsu-Bingaling of the Grugru clan is the most intense, poetic piece of literature I’ve ever read. I’m never going to notice that intensity if I’m too busy snorting root beer up my nose from laughing so hard at your character names. And don’t get me wrong, professional authors do it, too. I don’t know who told those people that you could string letters together at random until you come up with something that sounds vaguely cool and mysterious, but it just isn’t acceptable. I have a hang-up about it. It’s very difficult for me to take an author seriously if he or she does this. So much for civil discourse, right?

“But one of the beautiful things about The Tale of Telsharu is that Mechling and Stubbs don’t just make up words. They have consistent phonemes. They have an appendix entirely devoted to the correct pronunciation of those phonemes. They use name and title systems that actually make sense. All of their words at least sound like they come from the same language. Did they make up an entire language from scratch? No. That takes years and years of devotion, study, nitpicking, and sobbing. But theirs reads well, sounds right, rolls off the tongue. That’s what real world-building looks like. If it’s not the real thing, it has to feel like it is. The Tale of Telsharu does that.

“Is it so silly to think that when a writer is engaged in the crafting of language that he pay attention to the language and voices of his characters? Language is such an important part of culture, and there are subtleties and layers of meaning that cannot be developed if language is not distinct. So much of the artistry of language is in those layers. If that artistry falls flat every time your characters open their mouths, then your book is going to fall flat, too. If we can’t imply, infer, make innuendoes, and give back-handed compliments, so much meaning is lost. It’s the same reason I don’t like talking to people who don’t get my jokes. There’s a disconnect. An awkward pause. I’m reduced to the robotic recitation of pleasantries, and language, with its seemingly infinite possibilities, isn’t fun anymore. Subtlety is the best part. And if there’s no structure, there’s no subtlety.”

“I tend to gloss over fight scenes. Physical fighting is something I know very little about (I’ve always preferred hiding), even though combat of many varieties is in most of the books I read. If I’m in a rush to see if my favorite character is going to live to the next chapter, I’ll skim over the hand-to-hand and get right to the climactic death (or non-death) scene. I’m not a patient reader, and sometimes I don’t really mind if a plot doesn’t make much sense as long as the character development blows my mind away.

The Tale of Telsharu is a bit different when it comes to fight scenes. Many of the main characters practice one of two kinds of martial arts, sometimes both, and those disciplines have an effect on the characters’ personalities. Suddenly, fight scenes are character development. I flip to the back cover of the book to read the author descriptions, and I discover that both Mechling and Stubbs have been studying martial arts for years. They would have experienced what it means to be changed by that kind of discipline, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually. The Tale of Telsharu is a book that could not be written by anyone else, and I think that’s a mark of a good writer (or writer team, in this case). They’ve found their unique voice.

“However, there are times in a novel when the author’s voice needs to be bridled in a bit. There were a couple of weird descriptive moments in this book that I didn’t quite understand. For example, one of the main characters is described as having the eyes of a raptor. I know this is supposed to mean he’s somewhat predatory and malevolent, but all that pops into my mind is, ‘How do these characters know what a raptor’s eyes look like? Do dinosaurs still walk the earth in this world? The only raptor eyes I’ve seen were in Jurassic Park and I’m pretty sure that’s not what actual raptor eyes looked like.’ If a descriptive passage sends me tumbling down a rabbit hole of tangents like this, it distracts more from the story then it adds.”

“Talk about leaving room for another book. Isolated from its future sequels, the book doesn’t stand up as a cohesive story on its own. That’s okay, but not really my preference. I always feel a little cheated when that happens. I made it through this entire novel and I don’t even get the satisfaction of a resolution? What do you mean the hero and his main love interest haven’t retired from dragon-slaying and Dark Lord-overthrowing and have moved to a little cottage in the country where they’ve made a dozen laughing, rambunctious, and potentially dragon-slaying children? I always want my wrap-up, my ending neatly packaged with a bow on top. But, thankfully, I can keep reading a series even without my happy ending if I’m interested enough in the characters. To not do so would be like abandoning my friends just because they’re going through a rough time.

The Tale of Telsharu was interesting enough. Maybe not the best fantasy novel I’ve ever read; there were some weird, oddly worded moments that pushed me back into reality and reminded me I was reading a book. However, the way the characters were deftly woven into a complex mesh of conflict and divided loyalties was magnificent. And it all erupts in a fiery ball of chaos at the end.

The Tale of Telsharu is a classic tale of good versus evil. I mean, it even has demons for goodness sake. It’s hard to get more traditionally evil than that. But even our main villain, Telsharu himself, has good reasons for his actions. All the characters reach deep to find those key motivations, the emotions and beliefs, that push them to make their best and worst decisions: jealousy, selfishness, hatred, zeal, dedication, love. The wide spectrum of human emotion in the novel makes it more than a story used as a backdrop for some really awesome action-packed scenes of hand-to-hand combat. I hope that Mechling and Stubbs continue to bring their unique background to the fantasy genre.”

Rachel Castleberg

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  1. SwordNPen says:

    What a great review!
    I couldn’t stop laughing at your “King Brimabaralara and his effervescent consort Queen Ashotumarokatsu-Bingaling of the Grugru” comment. Brilliant! It is so true!

    Just as a side note. I think that by “raptor” the authors may have meant a “bird of prey.” Like a falcon or eagle or something. But it’s still kind of a funny image. 😉

    Can’t wait to check it out, and I look forward to other great reviews!

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