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Originally posted at FanLit
Nazhuret was an ugly half-breed orphan when he started life at an exclusive military school, but now he’s someone important. So important, in fact, that the king has asked him to write his autobiography. Who is this man who has fascinated a king, what is he now, and how did he come so far in the world?
Lens of the World, published in 1990, is the first book in R.A. MacAvoy’s LENS OF THE WORLD trilogy. It’s a coming-of-age story which reminds me of several fantasy epics I’ve read, especially Ursula K. Le Guin’s EARTHSEA series, Robin Hobb’s FARSEER saga and, more recently, Patrick Rothfuss’s KINGKILLER CHRONICLE.
Those are some big names I’ve used as comparison. Can MacAvoy really stand up to that? Mostly yes. Nazhuret is not quite as likable as FitzChivalry Farseer and not quite as interesting as Kvothe, but he’s an appealing hero, as are a couple of the other main characters such as Nazhuret’s enigmatic teacher, Powl, who lives in a strange round building and teaches Nazhuret to sit still, think, speak several languages, dance, fight, and appreciate optics, linguistics and other academic subjects. Then there’s a girl named Charlin who Nazhuret thinks he loves, though he’s not sure. (Sexuality is confusing to Nazhuret since he was raped by his schoolmasters when he was a boy.) And finally there’s Arlen, a thief who remembers Nazhuret from his school days, and the red-headed King whom Nazhuret meets later in the story and to whom we assume he’s writing.
Plot-wise, Nazhuret’s story is always interesting and I often found it absorbing, but I wouldn’t say that it quite reaches the level of “exciting.” For nearly half of the book he’s being educated before he sets off on his own and works odd jobs such as farm hand, janitor, and bouncer. He encounters bar fights, murderers, a wedding, a werewolf, a dragon, and makes friends with a dog. All this time, of course, we’re aware that he’s casually addressing the king as he writes his autobiography, so this makes us realize with anticipation that something important is going to happen. Toward the end we find out why his teacher is so interested in him, and learn that perhaps Nazhuret has a destiny. Other revelations about Powl and Arlen made me want to read on.
This doesn’t sound too much different from many other coming-of-age fantasy novels I’ve read, but what makes Lens of the World stand out is R.A. MacAvoy’s style, and this is why I’ve compared her to Hobb and Le Guin. Like those authors, MacAvoy’s prose is both beautiful and succinct — something that I truly admire but rarely experience.
I listened to Audible Frontier’s audio version of Lens of the World which was narrated by Jeremy Arthur, who did a perfect job with voices and cadence. It was the lovely thoughtful prose and the excellent narration that really carried me through this story, letting me just sit back and enjoy a beautifully told tale. I’m looking forward to the next book, King of the Dead.
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I had read “The Lens of the World” trilogy back when it first came out in 1990. I had been, and continue to be, a lover of MacAvoy’s writing since a clerk at the long since defunct Change of Hobbit bookstore in Santa Monica California pointed out her Damian’s Trilogy.
At the time, being a young gay man, somewhat uncomfortable in my own skin, I found “The Lens of the World” trilogy fascinating. Set inside a fictional pre-enlightenment Europe, the series tells the story of Nazhuret, a bastard child of the aristocracy, his training under the guidance of a proto-scientist, Powl, and his subsequent unleashing on the world. Throughout the series, of which this is the first, MacAvoy introduces, fairly matter of factly, an array of gender non conforming characters integral to the story, but whose gender nonconformity doesn’t dominate the story. The story is beautifully told with rich detail and finely written dialogue.
Now, to the audiobook. I’ve always liked MacAvoy’s command of dialog: Each character’s distinctive voice coming through in dialog the equivalent of the counterpoint of a piece of Bach. Unfortunately, Jeremy Arthur seems to obscure rather than highlight the different characters. It isn’t horrendous or anything, but it robs the listener of a critical element that brought so much distinctive quality to the book