The Scroll of Years by Chris Willrich
|Book Name:||The Scroll of Years|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Release Date:||September 24, 2013|
If you’re like me and enjoy your dragons glittering with gemstone warts, try The Scroll of Years by Chris Willrich.
In this world of Earthe, dragons hatch in volcanoes. They ascend from their fiery baths coated with scales of gold-veined rock. These western, male dragons then may search for their wyrm ladies in the east, elusive creatures of forest mist. Upon mating, they explode into stars.
Chris Willrich describes his dragons with grandeur, “wings like a bat’s but also like thunderclouds” and their maws “like a king’s kiln.” Though the wyrms are not major characters in The Scroll of Years, they left me with a fizzy delight.
The titular scroll opens a portal to a realm of clouds and mountaintops. The monastery drawn on its parchment serves as a refuge for the protagonists. Most notably, a poet, Persimmon, flees there in the final hours of her pregnancy. The dragon patterns of stretch marks on her belly prophesize in epic fashion that her child will become the next emperor. Three factions wish to control him, not counting his parents. His father scrambles to recover the scroll, missing his son’s birth and infancy, which may be a fantasy unto itself in the minds of some sleep-deprived parents.
Not often does this genre portray a protagonist as pregnant. Neither does magic lesson Persimmon’s gravid trials. She feels every kick. Outrunning a flying monk and the Night Auditors is not easier in the third trimester. And when her child is born, her life becomes a daze of jiggling gas free from her baby.
Given how important pregnancy is to the novel, the beautiful cover disappoints me. I can only imagine that the marketing meeting began with, “I don’t want to see any scrolls, any dragons, or any pregnant women. And put the girl in netting underwear, belly taut as a drum. For god’s sake, don’t make her baby-carrying status ambiguous. Fantasy readers are like skittish toddlers. They see a pregnant woman, and they think alien tumor.”
The red hair of the woman on the illustration removes all desperate doubt that it portrays someone other than Persimmon. She met her lover years ago, in a short story called “The Thief with Two Deaths”, featured in The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. The tale is included in the back of the novel, and I would recommend reading it first. The thief, Imago, is made immortal in an arcane accident. Two death mages attempt to kill him at once, and the spirits of their spells stymie each other and become Imago’s friends.
Sadly, Imago has little time for skullduggery in The Scroll of Years. He is too busy hiding with Persimmon from the Night Auditors. These dragon-enslaving lawmen have red tape for hearts, and they enjoy “pulping” the minds of others to “extract the juice of their knowledge.” One Night Auditor flaunts his fashion sense with a crystal imbedded in his skull. Its flashing facets show him the future. His associate carries a lantern with a mind-tearing flame.
Their pursuit is not so relentless that Imago and Persimmon lack the time to learn calligraphy. In this non-European setting they encounter memorable visuals like a man fishing with noosed birds, and gold teeth etched with tree leaves. They also meet other couples, first a pair of bandits. The plucky young man is Flybait, and the tough woman was named Next-One-A-Boy. And for a third set of characters we are introduced to a chi-supercharged monk called Walking Stick, and his frenemy Lightning Bug, who fights in the drunken-master style.
The Scroll of Years is long on viewpoint characters and short on pages, only a well-spaced 260. The novel also segues into multiple stories about the world’s history. By the end I was left wanting more. The novel never gave me enough time with the characters to call them friends.
I would like additional story with Walking Stick and Lightning Bug. This middle-aged couple championed opposing sides of The Garden and The Forest, of human order and natural harmony. The factions divided when an emperor sentenced his wife to death. She was carrying a prophesized child, a girl baby. The tormented emperor chose to execute them both rather than risk discord in his realm from a woman trying to inherit the throne.
The world of Earthe includes not only emperors and their magic-stifling walls. Brief mentions hint at a vastness, of boundless wonders and terrors. I will say that “necroconomists plotting financial doom” struck a little close to home.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I must attend to my dragon buddy. He needs a few uncomfortable diamonds removed, and I, being a giving spirit, offered to dispose of the outgrowths.