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The Acacia Trilogy, Book One

Written by David Anthony DurhamAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by David Anthony Durham


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On Sale: August 26, 2008
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-307-47293-9
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The first book in David Anthony Durham’s acclaimed fantasy series, the Acacia Trilogy—a timeless tale of heroism and betrayal, of treachery and revenge, of primal wrongs and ultimate redemption.

Leodan Akaran, ruler of the Known World, has inherited generations of apparent peace and prosperity, won ages ago by his ancestors. A widower of high intelligence, he presides over an empire called Acacia, after the idyllic island from which he rules. He dotes on his four children and hides from them the dark realities of traffic in drugs and human lives on which their prosperity depends. He hopes that he might change this, but powerful forces stand in his way. And then a deadly assassin sent from a race called the Mein, exiled long ago to an ice-locked stronghold in the frozen north, strikes at Leodan in the heart of Acacia while they unleash surprise attacks across the empire. On his deathbed, Leodan puts into play a plan to allow his children to escape, each to their own destiny. And so his children begin a quest to avenge their father's death and restore the Acacian empire—this time on the basis of universal freedom. Forced to flee to distant corners and separated against their will, the children must navigate a web of hidden allegiances, ancient magic, foreign invaders, and illicit trade that will challenge their very notion of who they are. As they come to understand their true purpose in life, the fate of the world lies in their hands.


Chapter One

The assassin left the stronghold of Mein Tahalian by the great front gate, riding through a crack in the armored pine beams just wide enough to let him slip out. He departed at sunrise, dressed much as any soldier of the Mein. He wore a cloak of elk fur that wrapped his body completely. It even covered his legs and gave warmth to the large–hoofed mount beneath him. Over his torso he wore a breastplate of double thickness: two sheaves of iron pounded to the contours of his body, with a layer of otter fur pressed beneath them. He moved south through a snowy land frozen into gelid brilliance.

The winter was so bitterly cold that for the first few days the man’s breath crystallized as it escaped his lips. The vapor formed a strange protuberance around his mouth, making the passage into it a cavelike channel. Knots of ice dangled from his beard, brushing against each other like glass chimes. He met few people, even when he passed through settlements of low, domed shelters. He saw the prints of white foxes and hares in the snow but rarely the creatures themselves. Once a snow cat paused to watch his progress from atop a boulder, its gaze one of indecision, considering whether he ought to flee the rider or pursue him. In the end he did neither, and the man put the beast to his back.

On one occasion he crested a rise and looked out upon a plain teeming with reindeer. It was sight almost unseen since distant times. At first he thought he might have wandered upon a gathering from the spirit world. Then he smelled the musty stink of the animals. This broke the mood of mystery. He rode down into them, taking joy in the way the herd peeled away from him, the sound of their hooves a rumble he felt inside his chest.

If Mein lands had been their own, he might have hunted these creatures as his ancestors had. But his wish did not change the reality. The race of people called the Mein, the high northern plateau of the same name, the great fortress of Tahalian, the royal line of men who should rule the territory without interference, all had been servants to Acacia for the last five hundred years. They had been defeated, massacred in great numbers, and since overseen by foreign governors. They had been taxed unfairly and robbed of fighting men, many of whom were sent to serve in the Acacian military in distant lands far from home, out of the hearing of their ancestors. This, at least, was how the rider saw it—as an injustice that should not go on forever.

Twice in the first week he cut away from the main road to avoid Northern Guard checkpoints. His papers were in order. In all likelihood he would not have been delayed, but he had no trust in Acacians and abhorred the notion of even feigning acknowledgment of their authority. Each looping excursion brought him closer to the Black Mountains that paralleled his route. Their peaks jutted up out of the snow like enormous flakes of obsidian that had been chipped to razor sharpness. If old tales were to be believed, the summits were the points of spearheads slammed up through the roof of their world by the race of angry giants whose own land lay beneath the earth’s skin.

After ten days of riding, he reached the edge of the Methalian Rim, the southern boundary of the Mein. He paused a moment to look down at the fertile woodlands three thousand feet below, aware that he would never again breathe the high country air. He slipped the headgear from his mount and dropped it where he stood. He chose a looser rein arrangement that bore no trace of his origins. Though it was still chilly and the land dusted with frost, he unfastened his cloak and tossed it to the ground. He drew out a dagger and slit the leather band that secured his helmet. He hurled the dome into the bushes and shook out his hair. Loosed from the confines of pounded metal, it whipped out as if in joy at the newfound freedom, long and brown. His hair was one of the features that had prompted him to take this assignment on. It bore little resemblance to the brittle straw coloration of most of the Mein race and had always embarrassed him.

After putting on a cotton shirt to disguise his breastplate, the horseman and his mount descended from the heights. They rode a switchback trail that spilled out onto a terrain of an altogether different sort, a temperate forest of hardwood trees, dotted with the small woodland settlements that made up the northern extent of the lands administered directly from Alecia, the bureaucratic seat of the Acacian government.

As his mastery of the empire’s tongue was loathsome to him he rarely spoke to anybody, except on the occasions that he had no choice. When he sold his horse to a trader at the southern edge of the woodlands he growled into the back of his hand, mumbling and gruff. He accepted in payment coins of the realm, clothes that would not attract attention, and a sturdy pair of leather boots, as he would walk the rest of the way to the shore. Thus he was transformed again.

He followed the main road to the south, a large sack slung over his shoulder. It bulged here and there with the items he would yet need. He passed the nights huddled in depressions at the edge of farms or in patches of woodland. Though the people around him believed the land to be gripped by winter, to him it was more like a Tahalian summer, warm enough that he found himself sweating.

Not far from the port of Alecia he discarded his garb once more. He peeled off his breastplate, sunk it beneath stones in a riverbed, and took up a cloak that had been sewn in the cold chambers of the Mein, hoping that it would pass for authentic. With it draped across his shoulders he appeared to be one of the Vadayan. Though an ancient order, the Vadayan were no longer the functioning religious sect they had once been. They were scholars who studied and preserved the old lore under the ceremonial direction of the priestess of Vada. They were a closemouthed group, disdainful of the workings of the empire. As such, it would not appear odd that he had few words for those around him.

To complete his appearance, the man shaved the sides of his head and bound the long hair at the top of his skull up into one tight knot wrapped in thin strips of leather. The skin at either side of his head was as pale and pink as pig flesh. He rubbed a tanning agent used to stain wood into it. Once completed, none but the keenest of eyes would have taken him for anything other than the scholar he pretended to be.

Though he wore these various guises with composure, he was in truth none of the things he passed for. His name was Thasren Mein. He was born of noble blood, son of the late Heberen Mein. He was the younger brother of Hanish, the rightful chieftain of the tribes of the Mein Plateau, and of Maeander, head of the Punisari, the elite guard force and proud heart of his people’s martial tradition. It was a lineage to be proud of, but he’d set all else aside to become an assassin. For the first time his existence truly made sense to him. He had never been more focused than he was now, more complete in himself, charged with a mission he had sworn his life to. How many walking the earth know exactly why they breathe and understand exactly what they must do before passing into the afterdeath? How fortunate he was.

From aboard a transport boat, he watched the isle of Acacia push out of the pale green sea in a knotted jumble of rock. It was innocent enough at a distance. The island’s highest point was at the southern end. In the center, the hilly farmland and ridges dropped somewhat, but rose again into the series of plateaus that generations of settlement had carved into a land fit to house the palace. Acacia trees stood as dark as the black–skinned Talayans of the south, wearing great crests of plumage, dotted here and there with white blossoms. Despite the great twisting length of the island’s coastline relatively little of it was easily accessible; beaches and ports were few.

Sailing past the port’s protective towers Thasren saw a flag of the empire, hanging limp from lack of breeze. He knew from the colors what he would see if it had stood out: a yellow sun inside a red–bordered square, at the center a black silhouette of the tree that gave this island its name. Every child of the Known World recognized the emblem, no matter how far distant their place of birth. The assassin had to check his desire to clear the phlegm from his throat and spit in contempt.

He climbed from the boat to the main dock in a rush of other passengers, merchants and laborers, women and children, all leaping the gap above the crystal–clear water like herd animals. There were a few other Vadayan among them, but Thasren avoided eye contact with them. Standing on the solid stone of the dock as his fellow passengers moved around him, he understood that he was about to step into the mouth of the enemy. If any person around him now found out his name or could divine his thoughts, he would become the target of every dagger, sword, and spear on the island. He waited a moment longer than he intended, surprised that nobody condemned him. Nobody shouted warnings or even paused to study him.

He took in the great wall of a pinkish stone with cold eyes. Beyond it, spires and towers and domes jutted up into the air, many of these painted dark blue or a somber red or a brown with a rusty quality, some gilded and twinkling in the sunlight. The structures rose terraced level by level with the steepness of a sheer mountain. It was beautiful to behold; even he could acknowledge that much. It was nothing like the low, brooding presence of the assassin's home. Tahalian was built with massive beams of fir wood, half dug into the ground as protection from the cold, undecorated because so much of the year it was drowned in winter darkness, with snow piled high on every flat surface. The difference between the two was hard to square, and so Thasren shook off thought of it.

He strolled toward the gates of the lower town. It might take some time, but he would find his way deep into the city, taking on whatever guises he needed until he gained entry to the palace itself. There he would answer the question put casually by his second brother just a month before. If they wished to kill a beast with many arms, Maeander had said, why not cut off the head to start with? Then they could deal with the limbs and body as the creature stumbled around sightless, without leadership. The assassin had only to get near enough to this head and to wait for the proper moment to strike it and to do it in public, so that word of the act would spread like a contagion from one mouth to another.

Chapter Two

To help her through the slow tedium of the morning tutorial Mena Akaran always sat in exactly the same spot, on a tuft of grass behind her siblings. She had just turned twelve and from this vantage point she could see through a missing tooth in the stone balustrade that hemmed in the courtyard. It framed a scene that began with the many–layered terraces of the palace. It dropped through a stretch of space beyond the town's western wall, then gave way to the swelling ranks of the cultivated hills. The farthest rise of land was the highest: the far promontory known as Haven's Rock. She had been there with her father and remembered the foul smelling, cacophonous seabird life of the place, with head-dizzying views that dropped a craggy, fifteen hundred feet straight into the foaming swells.

Sitting in the high, open–air classroom in which the king’s children met with their tutor, Mena’s thoughts would drift off. This morning she imagined herself a gull pushing free of the rock face. She hurtled down and shot out over the surface of the water. She darted between the sails of fishermen’s vessels and out over the trading barges that floated the sea on the circular currents that moved them from one place to another. She left these behind and the waves grew steeper. The turquoise water deepened to blue and then to seal–black. She flew past the shoals of sparkling anchovies and out over the backs of whales, seeking the unknown things that she knew would eventually emerge from the whitecapped edge of the horizon…

“Mena? Are you with us, Princess?” Jason, the royal tutor, and both her brothers and her sister were all staring at her. The children sat on the damp grass. Jason stood before them, poised with an old volume in one hand, his other one resting on his hip. “Did you hear the question?”

“Of course she did not hear the question,” Aliver said. At sixteen he was the eldest of the king’s children, the heir apparent to the throne. He had recently shot upward past his father’s height, and his voice had changed. His expression was one of interminable boredom, an illness that struck him about a year ago and had yet to release him. “She was thinking about fish again. Or about porpoises.”

“Neither fish nor porpoises have bearing on the topic we’re discussing,” Jason said. “So I’ll repeat: Whom did the founder of the Akaran dynasty unseat at Galaral?”

That was the question she missed? Anybody could answer that! Mena hated responding to simple questions. She found pleasure in knowledge only when she stood out from others. Dariel, her younger brother, knew who the first king was and what he had done, and he was only nine. She held out for as long as she could, but when Aliver opened his mouth with some jibe, she spoke quickly.

“Edifus was the founder. He was born into suffering and darkness in the Lakes, but he prevailed in a bloody war that engulfed the whole world. He met the Untrue King Tathe at Galaral and crushed his forces with the aid of Santoth Speakers. Edifus was the first in an unbroken line of twenty–one Akaran kings, of which my father is the most recent. Edifus’s sons, Thalaran, Tinhadin, and Praythos, set about securing and solidifying the empire through a series of campaigns called the Wars of Distribution—”

“All right,” Jason said. “More than I asked for…”

“A seagull.”


“I was being a seagull, not a fish or a porpoise.” She scrunched up her face at Aliver and then turned to give Corinn the same.

From the Hardcover edition.
David Anthony Durham|Author Q&A

About David Anthony Durham

David Anthony Durham - Acacia

Photo © Gudrun Johnston

David Anthony Durham received the 2009 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer of Science Fiction for Acacia and The Other Lands (the first two volumes of the Acacia Trilogy). Author of the historical novels Gabriel’s Story, Walk Through Darkness, and Pride of Carthage, he was handpicked by George R.R. Martin to write for his Wild Cards series of collaborative novels.

Author Q&A

An Interview with David Anthony Durham,
author of Acacia: Book 1: The War with the Mein

Doubleday Books: You’re known as a historical novelist; your previous novel was the well-received Pride of Carthage. Was moving into epic fantasy a natural step for you? Certainly the novel reveals a writer with a deep familiarity and affection for the genre.

David Anthony Durham: Thanks for saying that. It did feel very natural to me. I loved fantasy as an adolescent–Tolkein, LeGuin, Lewis, Alexander, Donaldson–and took great joy in rediscovering it as an adult–most notably with George RR Martin’s works. Reading Martin I’m aware I’m in the hands of an intelligent writer with a great grasp of literature and wonderful gifts as a storyteller, someone who is going to take me on a long journey with quite a few surprises along the way. I felt the same reading science fiction writers like Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, and Frank Herbert. I read Dune for the first time about three years ago. A few chapters in, I realized with glee that I hadn’t enjoyed reading a novel as much since . . . well, since I was young and reading fantasy. That combination of being challenged, being spoken to as a reader with an intellect, but also being sent on a voyage overtly of the imagination was like a reawakening to what storytelling is (and always has been) really about. I knew that’s what I’d been working toward in my historical fiction, but I hungered to be let loose to explore an alternative world. Acacia is that world.

DB: Still, I can imagine that some agents, or even writers, might feel a bit nervous about making this kind of career move. Even today, isn’t there critical and academic prejudice against epic fantasies, a sense that such novels are somehow less “serious” than other forms of fiction? Is that something you encounter as a writer and a teacher of writing?

DAD: Yes to all the above. I do think many writers–especially if they’re wearing the “literary” badge–are scared to death of writing anything somebody might label as having genre elements. That’s part of why literary fiction can seem quite stale. Some of our most famed authors have found a comfortable place in their fiction and rarely venture from it. After my first two novels were modestly well-received, I could’ve stayed on similar territory for a career, writing about the African-American experience in an historical context. But it didn’t make sense to me that something as special as writing and publishing novels should be done on auto-pilot.

When I proposed writing about Hannibal’s war with Rome, my agent and editors were supportive. They hadn’t exactly expected it, but they were as interested as I was in what I’d manage to produce. When I suggested fantasy, they needed a little convincing, but once I laid out what I had in mind they knew I was serious. Among other things, I said–and meant it–that if I could only write one more book before I died, I wanted it to be Acacia.

There is absolutely an academic and critical bias against epic fantasies–against anything that can fit into a genre, for that matter. I think it’s stupid. This is not to pretend I think all fantasy is great, either. I don’t. I’m a picky reader, and a lot of fantasy doesn’t cut it for me. But a lot of highbrow literary fiction doesn’t cut it either. I believe the intelligent way to read–and the way that the academy should be teaching students to read–is to roam widely, exploring different genres and perspectives and narrative styles, focusing a critical eye on all of them and judging them all accordingly. All too often, though, the academy teaches students to wear blinders and to only focus on a narrow sliver of what’s published in the world. As a teacher of writing, I make a case for students seeking out good writing–wherever they can find it–and learning what they can from it.

I’ve just been hired at Cal State Fresno, to teach in their MFA program. During the interview I said that my next novel was a fantasy and that I could only come to the program if that wasn’t go to be a problem for them. Not only wasn’t it a problem, they were so enthusiastic to have me that they made the terms of the position far too good to refuse. I’m proud of that, but I also know I’m lucky. It was a one in a thousand fit, and I’m looking forward to starting in the program in the fall of 2007.

DB: This a very fertile time for heroic fantasy. You’ve mentioned George R.R. Martin; I’d add Steven Erikson and R. Scott Bakker to the list of writers breaking out from under the stultifying shadow of Tolkien’s influence. These writers and others have brought a renewed focus on realism of character, politics, and history to the genre. Do you see yourself as part of this trend?

DAD:I wasn’t aware of joining a trend, but if a readership is increasingly picking up on fantasy novels with those characteristics, I’m happy to be a part of that. Realism of character, politics, history: those are all fundamental to my writing, regardless of the genre. Bringing it to epic fantasy, though, excites me like nothing has before. There’s so much potential to comment meaningfully on our world and on the human experience, while at the same time sweeping a reader into engaging, complex, dangerous adventures. People want that, don’t they? I think they do, and I hope they do, because those are exactly the type of stories I want to tell.

DB: For many years, African Americans were underrepresented in the field of speculative fiction. Now, thanks to trailblazers like Samuel R. Delany, Octavia Butler, and others, more writers of color are embracing the genre. But it’s still rare to see an African American writer tackling epic fantasy. Why is that?

DAD: That’s a complicated question, and I’m not sure I’m up to answering it fully. I’ll tell you what comes to mind, though. One is that African-Americans (or readers from many non-Caucasian ethnic groups) haven’t seen themselves represented in epic fantasy very often. Much of it grew out of a European storytelling ethos that looked back toward a time not nearly as multicultural as contemporary Europe actually is. Having said that, black readers do read fantasy. I did. My friends did. Black viewers were as much a part of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings audience as other Americans. But there’s a considerable chasm between appreciating fantasy and committing to write it.

The publishing business is not without its segregationist tendencies. It’s hard for an African-American writer to get acceptance writing about anything other than African-American topics, much less heading into epic fantasy, which will not only be seen as risky, but will also mean an investment of years of work with no guarantee the publishing world will even open the bridge to a possible audience. Writers like Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler are real exceptions, really unique individuals that did what they did regardless of the hurdles.

As for me, I have a very good relationship with my publisher. They believe I can write whatever I want, and they’re willing to do the work–and I do believe its work–to get reviewers and booksellers to read me without preconceived notions. It helps, also, that Pride of Carthage was successful at finding an audience here and abroad, in the UK and in six foreign language editions so far. If I can make this work, I hope it will inspire other writers of color into the genre. We’d all have richer reading choices with more diverse voices in the mix.

DB: Do you feel, as an African American writer, a special obligation to address the black experience in America in your fiction, or is such an expectation on the part of readers or critics essentially racist?

DAD: My problem with being obligated to address the black experience is that my identity as an African American is only part of who I am. It’s a proud part, but in many ways my life has only a fractured similarity to the larger African American experience. I grew up in America, but my family is from the West Indies on both sides (Trinidad and Barbados). That gave me a different outlook on the world. I’ve lived a good portion of my adult life in Europe. I’m married to a Scottish woman, the father of two very mixed-race children, and part of an extended family that stretches as far around the world as New Zealand. (The phone bills on the holidays are painful!) So I think I have a bit more to speak about than being black in America.

Projects like Pride of Carthage and Acacia are informed by my identity as a multi-cultural member of our wide world. That, I think, is a strength, and I hope it helps my writing to be probing in terms of cultural issues but also accessible–and relevant–to everyone.

DB: Okay, I have to ask: why “Acacia”? Did you always have this in mind for your title and the name of the empire at the heart of the novel, or did you sort of write your way into it as the novel grew?

DAD: It became the title and the central image of the novel early on, but I also grew into it with time. I was looking for a simple name for the empire, one that could have both concrete and symbolic resonance and that suggested the multi-cultural aspects of the world I was creating. I’ve always loved the way the acacia trees look, and the name sounded right. It reminded me of Arcadia, which has its own utopian implications. As I learned more about the trees they seemed an even better fit. Though symbolic of Africa or Australia, acacia trees are widely distributed around the world–like my Acacians. The trees are eloquently beautiful, but also thorny and protective–like Acacians. Their great branches provide homes for all sorts of animals, a structure to some creatures that know no other possibilities–like the Acacian Empire. Because they can be largely burnt to the ground and yet emerge still living much later, they’ve become symbolic of resurrection–which is a theme in a variety of ways in the novel. And, as fundamental as anything else, this is a novel of the legacy of a family tree.

DB: Is your invented empire of Acacia, and the world in which it is set, based on actual history? With the drug Mist, and the mysterious yet seemingly all-powerful Lothan Aklun, I was reminded a bit of China and its relations with the British . . . but the hideous and pernicious Quota system of slave export also put me in mind of African kingdoms along the so-called Slave Coast during the height of the Atlantic Slave Trade.

DAD: Great question, and the answer is yes on all counts. I did an awful lot of reading into actual world history as I wrote Acacia. Part of the joy of writing fantasy was that I could take bits of pieces of history and juxtapose them in ways I couldn’t have if I was writing about our world. The thing is, I’m not sure anymore where the inspiration from our world begins or ends. Those aspects have so blended with the imagined influences that the connections blur and tangle–hopefully in a manner that gives readers lots of food for thought but skews away from being a commentary on any particular historical situation.

DB: It sounds as though your skills as an historical novelist played a big part in the world-building for these books.

DAD: The work I’d done on Pride of Carthage fed directly into world-building in Acacia. I had to create a credible, detailed, but also entirely foreign world for that novel, one that hasn’t existed for 2,000 years. It was a time of very different moral outlooks, different religions, values, fundamental beliefs. A lot of what we think we know about the ancient world is nothing more than informed speculation. Frankly, I had to make up an awful lot to fill in the gaps in the historical record and to make a textured narrative. After that experience, I felt quite at home with the notion of building another speculative world–my own.

DB: Magic is obviously an important part of the world-building in any fantasy, and I think it’s fair to say that the best fantasies also feature the most imaginative and well thought out magical systems. We only see the first glimmerings of your magical system here in the first volume, but it promises to be a doozy. Can you expand a bit on the Santoth, also known as the God-Talkers, and how you developed their magic? Are they the only source of magic in your world?

DAD: I wouldn’t say the Santoth are the only source of magic in this world, but I would say the language that they speak (in corrupted form) is the source of all life, energy, animation in the world. It’s best explained by Acacian mythology. The ancient tale goes that a creator figure called the Giver roamed the early earth, singing it to life. The words of his song had the power to breathe life, to give shape and form and substance to the world and all its creatures. One of his human creations, a young man called Elenet, began to follow him as he walked the earth, entranced by his song. Problem is that Elenet learned the words of the God-Talk and before long began to speak it himself. When the Giver discovered this, he turned angrily away from the world and abandoned it. Elenet, however, coveted his knowledge and continued to use it. He became the first human God-Talker, and his followers became the Santoth magicians. So that’s the tale that explains how magic came into the world and got into human hands. (It may or may not be true, by the way.)

There was a problem with all of this, though. Humans weren’t meant to speak God’s language. They were never quite capable of singing the words purely, and their flawed character always warped their magic, no matter what their intentions were. Acacia’s first undisputed king, Tinhadin, was a Santoth. Once he’d secured his throne, he banished the rest of the Santoth because he feared their power. He kept for himself the Book of Elenet, the dictionary that the first Santoth had kept to preserve the knowledge of God-Talk. And then he stopped using magic himself, hoping it would die from the world since it had always been a source of chaos.

The novel begins many generations after Tinhadin. The Santoth are but a myth, and the Book of Elenet is believed to have been lost long ago. Suffice it to say that during the course of the first novel both the Santoth and the Book are found again. They have a dramatic role in the events toward the end of the novel, but you’re right–they’ll be of even greater import in the coming struggles.

DB: Tell us a bit about the main characters, King Leodan and his four children: Aliver, Corinn, Mena, and Dariel. Do you have a favorite among them? I found myself initially very sympathetic toward Corinn . . . yet by the end of the volume, I was actually kind of terrified of her! And the other children undergo similarly complex changes as they grow up.

DAD: That’s great to hear! Yeah, by the end Corinn terrifies me too. Even as the writer I’m surprised at how she developed, but I also see an inevitable connecting of the dots that shaped her into what she becomes by the end.

I love all my characters for different reasons and in different ways. Leodan is a fine man in many ways, moral and troubled by the inequities the empire is built on. He wants only to raise his children in peace, and because of that he’s torn between allowing the status quo to continue and/or revealing the crimes of the empire and trying to change them. From page one of the book, though, forces are moving against him. Before long the empire is crumbling amidst a multi-pronged attack. He’s forced to send his children into exile. He sends them each in a different direction, hoping they’ll survive to adulthood and learn enough from their host nations to be able to rebuild Acacia on a better model.

Aliver, the oldest son, is sent into a tribal culture from the south, where his insecurities are severely tested. Corinn, the beauty of the family, heads to the north, but has an unexpected turn. Mena finds herself far from the center of the empire, among an island culture in which she becomes a religious figure. And Dariel, the youngest son, winds up in the care of a pirate-culture that he falls into so completely he almost forgets his earlier life as an Akaran prince. Needless to say, being among the people this way provides them firsthand knowledge of how the empire really works, and this knowledge is part of what allows them to realize their potential in ways their father never could.

If I had to pick a favorite Akaran, it would probably be Mena. I love the severe, sword-wielding half-goddess toughness of her, and the way that’s tempered by a quiet intelligence and sensitivity.

DB: One of the things I admired about the novel was how much care you took to make the Mein, the ostensible bad-guys, as complex and, in many ways, worthy of sympathy as the heroes and heroines.

DAD:I’ve written quite a few bad-guys so far, but almost all of them have some trait or characteristic that endears them to me. That’s true of racist cowboy demagogues of Gabriel’s Story and of the slave trackers of Walk Through Darkness. With Acacia, though, I got to have even more fun with them.

Hanish Mein is smart, witty, charismatic. He’s got the best wardrobe–lots of tight-fitting leather, etc. His brothers are, in their own ways, even cooler. Icy, in fact. As a group, they’re tall and lean, fair-skinned and gray-eyed and blond-haired, with braids and golden dreads and bells chiming as they move to sing to their ancestors, of whom they’re fiercely proud. I relished skewing the familiar notions of good and bad, white and black. But complexity is still a must. So I haven’t just made the Nordic types the baddies. It’s more complicated than that.

Is Hanish Mein relentless in the way he prosecutes his war? Yes. Does he orchestrate the death of millions to achieve his goals, even using a form of biological warfare? Yes. Does he strive to unleash a sort of hell on earth in the name of his ancestors? Yes. And were his people gravely, gravely wronged by the Acacians, enough so that all his actions can be seen as a long-delayed retribution for past crimes done to them and to the larger world as well? Yes, that’s true too. For my money, that’s what makes the novel interesting. Conflicts between peoples never line up in terms of absolute good versus absolute evil. There are always shared human impulses on both sides. There are always ways that each side justifies themselves, and almost always there are legitimate grievances that get hijacked by our baser impulses. If that’s true in this world, I knew it had to be true in Acacia as well.

DB: How many books will there be in the series? And can you give us a hint of what lies ahead? I presume, for one, that we’ll learn a lot more about the Lothan Aklun!

DAD: Right now I envision three books in this series. That, at least, is what I think it will take to wrap up the narrative arc begun with The War with the Mein. In terms of what lies ahead . . . There will definitely be more about the Lothan Aklun, and more about the even greater power that lies to the west of them, much more about Corinn and the Santoth, about Mena as a warrior princess and about Dariel’s emergence as a revolutionary. The driving plot point is that the Acacians make the mistake of contacting The Other Lands directly for the first time. It’s a blunder that unleashes a much greater threat than the one posed by Hanish Mein in the first novel. And then a whole lot of stuff happens . . . Just thinking about it starts my fingers itching to get back to work!

DB: A lot of writers, especially those who work across genres, like to keep a couple of irons in the fire at any one time. Are you working on any other projects?

DAD: Nope, just this next volume in the Acacia series. That’s all that’s on my plate right now, other than teaching, writing an occasional review, being a husband and father, and getting back into whitewater kayaking.



Praise for David Anthony Durham and The Acacia Trilogy:

“David Anthony Durham has serious chops. I can’t wait to read whatever he writes next."
—George R. R. Martin
“A fascinating world.”
USA Today
“A big, fat, rich piece of history-flavored fantasy. . . . Imagined with remarkable thoroughness.”
“Gripping. . . . From the first pages of Acacia, Durham demonstrates that he is a master of the fantasy epic.”
The Washington Post Book World
“Thrilling. . . . Durham’s new world—like our old one—is crawling with wickedly fascinating characters.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Transcendent. . . . As fantasy epics go, the ‘Acacia’ trilogy is a direct and worthy descendant of Tolkien.” —Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
“A truly epic fantasy . . . Superbly written.”
Fantasy Magazine
“Something genuinely new. . . . Strong echoes of Homer and Virgil, Tolkien, Norse mythology’s Twilight of the Gods and America’s compromised history as a republic built on slavery fuse into an enthralling, literate and increasingly suspenseful narrative.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Never lets up. . . . A very tasty fantasy stew.”
San Jose Mercury News
“Extraordinary. . . . One of the best books, fantasy or otherwise . . . in recent memory.”
Free-Lance Star
“Excellent. . . . A multi-layered, page-turning series that pushes the envelope of epic fantasy.”
Contra Costa Times

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