Title: The Tides of Avarice: A Sagaria Legend
Author: John Dahlgren
Pages: 464, Paperback
Reviewed by: Brandon Nolta, Pacific Book Review
Book ReviewIn the world of Sagaria – a place not so different than ours, other than virtually all the animals can talk and have roughly equal status in society – there are adventures to be had…but generally not for lemmings. Outside of the sleepy village of Foxglove, there aren’t a lot of lemmings, and their place in the world is a quiet, frequently overlooked one. The only adventure that most lemmings know of is the Great Exodus, where those chosen by the Great Spirit set forth over the Mighty Enormous Cliff to the Land of Destiny, never to return. That’s not quite good enough for Sylvester Lemmington, Junior Archivist and Translator of Ancient Tongues, but he doesn’t see any other viable path in life. Besides, being besotted with the charming and willful Viola Pickleberry, he doesn’t have a lot of room in his mind for other worries.
And then, one night, he and Viola find a wounded ferret in the river – worse, a wounded pirate ferret – with a treasure map and a warning that all too soon comes true…
Thus begins The Tides of Avarice, the first book in the Sagaria series by Swiss author John Dahlgren, and before you can say “Arrrr,” it’s off to the races. There’s a lot to absorb in this novel – it runs to more than 400 pages, and maintains a pace ranging from brisk to breathless throughout – but Dahlgren maneuvers through the story with wit and confidence, keeping his characters and situations deftly on the move without losing sight of the long game. Virtually all of his characters are richly drawn, even down to late-in-the-game additions (Pimplebrains, a taciturn but honorable pirate beaver, is a fine example), and the shadings in their portrayals makes the deeper themes resonate, even on the rare occasion where some of the subtext threatens to become text. However, even when some of the buried themes rise perilously close to the surface – such as the importance of using reason and rational approaches to the world over the dogma of hidebound religions – Dahlgren manages to avoid didacticism and keep the story on an even keel.
Part of what makes Dahlgren’s book so remarkable is the astonishing adeptness with which the author mixes and matches genre elements and tone without dipping too far in one direction. While the book is likely to be classified as fantasy – animals talking, wearing clothes and sailing ships tends to make that a given – it’s more high-seas adventure than anything else, and a late plot development makes a strong argument for heading into another genre altogether. More to the point, the book is just plain funny. Despite some dark turns and the fact the story never shies away from violence, Dahlgren keeps a tone of near-perpetual bemusement firmly in hand; much of the expository prose and dialogue betrays an Anglophilic sense of humor, and the overall voice of the book is playfully witty, similar to Douglas Adams or Tom Holt. For fans of wit, adventure or even just pirate stories, Dahlgren’s book should be a welcome addition to bookshelves.