Crime & Punishment & Sorcery
The Scar is the type of book that makes you weep for the limitations of sub-genre delineations. Not epic in scope and apparently intended to stand alone despite being part of a larger cycle. The epic and fantastic elements that presumably tie together the larger cycle are there, but very much in the background. This is really a novel about three people. Where so much fantasy is so very epic, The Scar is incredibly intimate. At the same time, it does not share the heavy reliance on action and violent conflict of most Sword & Sorcery. It perhaps better resembles a fully formed, and in many ways very traditional, fairy tale.
At its heart, The Scar is a tale of two people (and another person linked to both) whose lives are eternally altered and inextricably linked by a senseless murder. It is a tale of a terrible and well deserved curse. It is a tale of arrogance, fear, humiliation, cowardice, and redemption. It is a tale of pride, grief, and forgiveness. The great strength of Russian literature is its ability to plumb the depths of the tortures of the human condition. The Scar shares this ability and brings it to a fantasy setting.
The other tremendous strength of Russian literature is, oddly enough, the language. The prose is halting, haunting, and lyrical, as that of all great Russian literature seems to be. E.g., “A delicate, sweetish, slightly smoky fragrant was soon added to the bitter smell of the velvet. As he gazed at the black partition in front of him, Egert’s hearing became unusually acute. He heard a variety of sounds: far and near, subdued and susurrant, as if a horde of dragonflies were creeping about the inside of a glass jar, brushing their wings against the transparent walls.”
As I implied above, The Scar is very light on action and very heavy on character development and depth and the interrelations of the characters. All three main characters are exceptionally well drawn and three-dimensional. Of course not everyone cares for this sort of thing and it’s hard to do for any author not named Dostoevsky, but when it’s done right it can, to my mind, create something of spectacular beauty that leaves an imprint on one’s soul, a true artistic masterpiece. I humbly submit that The Scar is such a work (and it still reads much easier than Dostoevsky, not the least because it dispenses with Russian naming conventions).
The world of The Scar is adroitly drawn, albeit only with the broadest of strokes. The book takes place almost entirely within two cities. Fantastic elements are largely limited to mages and the mysterious and ominous Order of the Lash (neither of which are fully explained), oblique references to some great threat to the entire world, and the enigmatic Wanderer.
The Scar was originally published in 1997 in Russia. Elinor Huntington deserves great praise for her English translation. Let’s hope we see more Huntington translations of the work of this talented Ukrainian (and Ukraine is NOT weak!) couple in the near future.