Book review: Astrum by Faramond Frie

"A poetic adventure in the spirit of Jules Verne and HG Wells. Narrated by the adventurer, Harry Lovat who, tired of brooding over a lost love, throws himself into the middle of a conflict between warriors, mystics, robots, rich industrialists and dragons! Want to know more? Join him at the Savoy for a splendid evening of tea and biscuits as he recalls the events that followed his involvement in a conflict that shaped the world."

Confession time
Truth to be told, the first ever printed copies of this book have been residing in my personal library waiting to be picked up by Mr. Frie himself at the Swedish Sci Fi Convention KonTur 2017 in Uppsala a couple of weeks ago. This said, I did not cheat and only started to read my copy after having it signed and returning home.

But anyone who believe that I am biased in my review is of course welcome to skip right down to the paragraph of "What does my inner publisher have to say?" because it never shows any mercy with anyone.

Who should read Astrum?
Well, first of all you should read Astrum if you're into steampunk fantasy and/or adventures of warriors. But Astrum is also a lot more than action and dragons; taking on the massive issues of 'what's right or wrong' - who's 'they' and who's 'us'.

But Astrum is also the perfect book if you're looking for something different; a new kind of reading experience. And I believe that this story goes well with someone who enjoys using their imagination while reading and picks up on the smallest grind of inspiration to do so.

The back of Astrum is almost like a poster inviting the reader to this one man show by Harry Lovat at the Savoy, and the reader is truly in for an evening of storytelling (tea is optional but nice). Astrum is at times a dialogue with the reader and as such it is truly welcoming (which is quite an achievement!).

And as the evening turns into night (or at least a late evening), Harry Lovat takes his listener/reader along for this adventure presented as poems from the perspective of all the carachters, unfolding the dramatical events back in (mainly) the 1890s . And there is a hint of Shakespear to it, though unlike A Midsummer Night's Dream it will all make sense.

And I truly enjoyed the way Faramond Frie uses a light hand to touche the hearts of his characters
thus allowing them to show us who they really are, not wasting words on unnecessary descriptions of bodies, hair or faces. Faramond Frie manages to make it all about the inside, and I for one am delighted to be deceived by prejudice as Harry Lovat reveals the truth of events.

What does my inner publisher have to say?
Well, first of all I do admire the bold approach to the genre and telling the story in this particular way. It does demand the attention of its reader and that is new compared to the trend of being too explicit; and therefore I am intrigued.

And I am not let down. Astrum pulls me in from the beginning and holds its grip to the end. Harry Lovat hosts the evening like a professional and it does feel like this is a story he has told before in similar ways. The only thing interfering with that illusion is the occacional waffling that does suggest that maybe there is still more whiskey than tea in Lovat's cup. However, the parts where the reader is adressed directly are alltogether very well executed.

Faramond Frie also does a great job in showing the characters' actions, reactions and emotions. To me that says a lot more about them and who they want to be, than any ordinary description would. I find myself really appreciating this format where there's no room for anything unnecessary. (Although, I clearly don't apply it myself writing this review. Moahaha!) Still, there is one person that I would have liked to know more about, someone who at first appears to be very important in the course of events but instead is forgotten.

And, this is of course a totally different matter, after all, you don't always have to agree with everything you read to still be able to enjoy a good book when you find one, but I will adress it anyway; I don't always agree with the characters. And I especially find the main female characters to be way too gentle and kind to a certain someone. I know that the reactions I object to are common, but it's not the way they are described that annoys me as much as the fact that women in general do a lot of this when we really need to stop encourage that kind of behaviour! It's really not helping anyone! (Ladies, we are NOT responsible for other people's (read men's) feelings just because we happen to be born as girls!) And this someone, to me, is just creepy.

But what about the story in itself? What happened to the promise of adventure and dragons?
Of course it's all there! There are dragons and there is fighting and action and people even die (that's no spoiler! what else would you expect when there are warriors in the story? that they'd all just hug it out?), but what's more important than the events themselves is why these things happened, if there could have been another way, and how the characters are affected by all of it. I would even say that the real adventure in Astrum takes place in the minds of the characters, while the action is more of a backdrop (that said, there are a great many stunts in there as well).

And so the big question; would I have recommeded this book to be published by Andra Världar?
Yes, I would. And while discussing the script with my partners, my only suggestion to Faramond Frie would be to slip Harry Lovat a glass of water every now and again to lessen the effects of that spiked tea. And maybe he would even be able to tell us some more about how that forgotten someone fits into the picture.

Hurry up and get your own copy!
You can order Astrum here or here. And there is also a rumour (all right, I made it up because I know that it will happen) saying that you can get your own signed copy in Fantastikgränden at the Gothenburg bookfair Bokmässan 2017.

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