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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Antiquitas Lost: Last of the Shamalans

Okay, recently I finished a book called, Antiquitas Lost: The Last of the Shamalans, which is the first book by cardiologist turned-writer Robert Louis Smith. Now I want to preface this review by saying that this book has at the very least the potential to be good, in fact I would have given it three sheep if there hadn't been other issues with the book. Unfortunately there are a few major problems I personally had with the book. In an attempt to be fair I will say what I thought was good about the book.

To begin I'll say that I think the ideal audience for this book is teenagers. The main character, Elliott, is a fifteen year old boy who has never really fit in with the other kids. The main reason for this stigmatization by his peers is the presence of bright purple birthmarks on his hands and feet. Elliott eventually discovers that he is part of a dying race known as Shamalans, once the ruling class in a world known as Pangrelor. As a character Elliott doesn't fit in with his birth world of Earth but at the same time doesn't really fit into the world of Pangrelor which desperately needs him. Thus, as a character Elliott gives off a sort of loner and outcast vibe which resonates really strongly with teenagers. (Well, okay, my own experience as a teenager. I can't speak for all teenagers, obviously.) Thus for any teenagers among our reading audience, or the countless moms and dads in our audience with teenagers (and I do feel sorry for you) Antiquitas Lost would be a good book to pick up. Otherwise, I feel like Elliott doesn't resonate as well with people outside the teenage demographic.

I want to make a comment on the illustrations, which appears to be a major selling point of this book, at least from the reviews. The illustrations are all in black and white, and I mention this because there is a lot that can be done with black and white illustrations. To its credit, the illustrations in the book help a lot with visualizing some parts of the story. Also most of the illustrations are competently done, if a little busy in my opinion. I will mention that a couple of the illustrations are so detailed that it's hard to tell what's going on in the picture, but that's only a handful of the sixty-something illustrations.

The final thing that I really liked about this book is that Smith introduces a variety of different races such as gimlets, grayfarers, serpans and darfoyles. In a genre positively littered with books using the same standard fantasy races, the introduction of unique species is a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately I feel like this is where the problems begin with the book. Elliott is what we call a fish-out-of-water character. He is taken from a familiar environment, such as New Orleans, and is thrust into a different and unfamiliar environment. Therefore when Elliott asks questions such as "What is a grayfarer?" which we, the audience are also asking, it does not come off as awkward or contrived. With the introduction of a variety of new races which are unfamiliar to the standard fantasy reader this is an excellent way to introduce the world that Smith has constructed. Unfortunately I feel like this isn't capitalized upon as well as it could have been. For example, there is a species called gimlets which, based from what I've gleaned from the book, are a short race of people, about three feet tall, generally amicable and unused to war, and as far as I can tell their economy appears to be mainly agrarian-based. Now I hope you'll all forgive me for saying this, but that sounds a lot like hobbits from Lord of the Rings. To quote Mr. Spock, "Now hobbits are peace-loving folks you know, they're never in a hurry and they take things slow. They don't like to travel away from home, they just like to eat and be left alone." Yes, I did just quote The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins, my point is that based on these descriptions gimlets bear more than a passing resemblance to hobbits. I don't know if that was intentional on Smith's part or not, and I feel like if he had meant for the two species to be unique he could have distinguished the gimlets more. Another example of something that needs more explanation are the Haviru. I know that they join with the bad guys, and that the bad guys pay them to join their side, that they have siege equipment and the illustrations depict them at human but...what are they? Are they a band of mercenaries? Are they a warlike nation of humans? Are they even human? There are humans in the world of Pangrelor, but the Haviru are always referred to as Haviru, does that mean they're distinct somehow? Their introduction to the story just raises more questions that aren't answered, but that's just my opinion on the matter.

I do feel like Smith definitely should have explained The Great Betrayal earlier in the book than he did. The Great Betrayal is a backstory event in Antiquitas Lost, where the shamalans who had ruled the Empire were killed in great numbers. Deprived of its leaders, the Empire begins losing ground in the war against Malus Lothar and puts it in the desperate position we encounter at the beginning of the novel. While I understand that someone betrayed the shamalans and killed them, and that it lead to the current narrative conflict, the exact details of this event are not explained until the last twenty pages of the book, after the conflict has been resolved. There are at least two points where Elliott straight up asks, "What is the Great Betrayal?" (which I, myself, was also asking) and the other characters say, "Now is not the time to explain." To give my honest opinion, it would have been a perfect time to explain the details of the Great Betrayal because that information is relevant to the overall plot of the book. Once the conflict has been resolved, the details feel...less important somehow. I just simply would have preferred that Smith offered these explanations before the last pages.

A final thing which I felt Smith could have done better was explore the similarities and differences between our good guys and bad guys. At one point a grayfarer captures a serpan and says that the serpan is going to be executed. When the serpan asks why he will be executed, the grayfarer responds, "For being a serpan." (To clarify, serpans are bad guys, grayfarers are good guys.) And honestly, that's kind of like telling someone you're going to kill them because they're Asian or Hispanic. It's purely an accident of birth which they could not control and to judge them solely by that is nothing more than racism. In some cases, the good guys act no better than the bad guys, and I only use those terms because they're designated that way in the book. Furthermore, the bad guys have a legitimate reason for going to war against the shamalans and their allies. Long ago the shamalans pushed the serpans, by force of arms I might add, into a rocky and cold region where very little grows. The serpans are forced to struggle for their very existence while the shamalans and their allies continue to live in the fertile farmland. I honestly cannot blame the serpans for wishing to not live where they are now and find some new land, so I find them on some level to be sympathetic. I felt like Smith could have better capitalized on the gray qualities of both factions to make us consider what is evil and what is good. Ultimately I felt like the bad guys are bad because the narrator says so, and the good guys are good for the same reason.

My biggest complaint, and this is the fault of Michael Carr, is that there are major typographical errors throughout the book. And I don't mean once or twice there's a typo in the entire book, no this happens close to twenty times in the book. I can forgive one or two in a first edition, but twenty? And what makes it more annoying is that it is consistently the same problem, quotation marks are missing from dialog. Look, I know editing can be hard work, I do it myself here on the blog. The problem is that these are basic rules of how to use punctuation and the editor kept missing these mistakes. It's especially irritating when the rest of the book seems to understand how quotation marks work. So if the publisher or the author is reading this review, please do another edit job before you reprint this book.

Overall, this book could have been good, possibly even great, but the problems bring it down. The potential for morally gray characters feels wasted when the narration seems to designate good guys and bad guys with no room for leeway, and the typographical errors kept dragging me out of the story. Hopefully Smith can explore his world of Pangrelor further in future novels and expand the foundations he has set out in Antiquitas Lost. I would still recommend it for the teenage demographic because of its protagonist and its themes.
- Kalpar.


  1. The cover illustration looks a little too busy, os if the interior ones are like that, I can see your point.

  2. A very honest review that really dives deep into the book. Making it clear on the parts that need some attention yet exploring all the positives. Loved this Ben, excellent job!

  3. Thank you for your efforts and sharing today. This one does not sound like my cup of tea, but I do enjoy reading about new (to me) books - trying to broaden my horizons here :)

  4. Great Review! (I liked the book)