The Jackal of Nar is the first novel by newcomer John Marco. As first novels go, this one shows a good deal of promise, although it's a little rough in places. The Jackal of Nar follows the story of young Richius, a Prince of Aramoor pressed into battle by the decadent Empire of Nar, whose battle prowess has been honed in centuries of bloody war. In the distant and impoverished Lucel-Lor, the military technology is lacking, yet as of late they have found themselves a new weapon: Magic.
After an initial defeat, the Empire presses war with Lucel-Lor, although for all practical purposes, it is sheer folly. Richius however, will soon find out the dark need behind such a war. Dark need or not, Richius is in this for love, and will lead Naren science into a conflict with the magic of Lucel-Lor. Although filled with unexpected twists, the main plotline takes a rather predictable course from here on in. You know, love conquers all. Especially forbidden love it seems.
Not exactly being High Fantasy the novel's characerization efforts are centered mostly around Richius, portrayed as the usual angst-torn hero. Surprisingly however, Marco does flesh out a goodly number of supporting characters. Tharn, for instance, is explored strongly, with his character developing a great deal throughout the course of the novel. The ruling lords of the Empire are simply fascinating. Their sheer degeneracy is quite aptly revealed, yet Marco does not make the mistake of writing them as mindless fools. Count Biagio especially seems a force to be reckoned with and is quite well written. Sadly enough, Marco portrays the first novel's most integral villain (at least on the surface), Blackwood Gayle, in just such a manner. Both degenerate and stupid, his pointless actions are often a source of frustration for the reader, and serve mianly to brightly circle Richius' good points. After all, he does have his share of bad points, like leaving his men to die on the field of battle. And a King, leaving his people for love? A little responsibility please, this isn't Hollywood.
The Jackal of Nar is rife with some beautiful imagery, and this adds wonderfully to the general atmosphere of the book. The City of Nar especially, is described in dark and gothic detail, and the very images of an industrial and corrupt city spring to mind. Marco's words bring to life a vivid image of an overpowering city that's more machine then anything else, and the dark heart which drives it. Even the plot itself, in this part of the book, adds to the vision, as the dark characters of the ruling lords are brought into the light. Very well done. Marco's potential as a writer shines through strongly here, and hopefully we'll see more of it in future books.
Another qualm with the book is that's it's been referred to as 'Military Fantasy'. Out & out, this is a love story (and not a great one) with some war and politics thrown in. From what we've seen, had it been the other way around, this would have been a great book. The love story serves only to bog the rest of the plot down, it doesn't even boast a tragic moment. (well, somewhat one - more of shock). Still, hopefully Marco's style will progress. Seeing as he was a technical writer, it only makes sense human drama should suffer a bit.
And that brings us full circle, doesn't it? All in all, a good first effort, if not up to the standards of some of the current fantasy offered up. Still, we'll withold any final judgements on John Marco (be it good or bad) until we've sampled some more of his fare.