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The Chronicles of Scar

by Ron Sarti

paperback edition

This seems to be the Year of the Bastard Prince. Assassin's Apprentice has been very popular, but another such book that hasn't received as much attention is The Chronicles of Scar. Paradoxically, it's much lighter in tone than Assassin's Apprentice, despite having a much more cynical viewpoint character.

Several centuries after your standard geological Cataclysm (nuclear cataclysms seem to have gone out of vogue), America is a decidedly dangerous place. The swamps are full of dinosaurs, the result of cloning experiments by pre-Cataclysm scientists who must not have seen "Jurassic Park," and the forests are full of savage beastmen. Technology is restricted to a pre-industrial level by Codes to which the American nation-states adhere.

Arn is an starving beggar boy in a backwater town of the kingdom of Kenessee. When Arn's pubic birthmark is unexpectedly made public, the king acclaims Arn as his long-lost bastard son, and Arn is raised and educated as a prince alongside his half-brother Robert. The rest of the book spends surprisingly little time dwelling on Arn's beggar origins. Instead, it centers on court politics and the impending war that forces him into the role of reluctant hero.

After a gutter rat becomes a prince, further revelations about parentage are bound to be anticlimactic, and the gratuitous revelations at the end of the book should have been hinted at only subtly or not at all. Most of the story's Dark Secrets are revealed more deftly, and a minimum of detail is sketched in about most of the political maneuvering.

The supporting characters have depth and motivation, with the exception of the Malevolent Queen (there's always a Malevolent Queen, but I suppose there might not be if the Noble King could keep his pants on) and the Batty Old Soothsayer (another archetype that croaks her way through all of these lost prince stories, perhaps in search of a bath and a breath mint). I would have liked to have seen more of the dinosaurs and the beastmen, which set this story apart from the thirty other medievaloid Reluctant Hero fantasies on the same bookstore shelf.

Sarti does leave a few loose ends; Arn's unnaturally acute hearing, for example, is never adequately explained. (Eavesdropping is a terribly convenient device for exposition, though, and having acute hearing is safer than lurking under windows and behind drapes. Look at what happened to Polonius.) A sequel is possible but unnecessary, and in a daring break with industry tradition, the cover utterly fails to proclaim this the first in a trilogy, tapestry, or other sort of series. I enjoyed The Chronicles of Scar; it's an absorbing story that doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as the title implies.

-- Christina Schulman.
Reviewed in
April 1996

paperback edition
Publisher: Avon
Date: January 1996
ISBN: 0-380-77939-0
Binding: paperback
Pages: 390
Price: US $5.50, Canada $7.50

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Sep 2001 / CMS