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Book Review: The Prodigal Troll by Charles Coleman Finlay

* Genre: Epic Fantasy; Coming-of-Age Fantasy
* ISBN: 1591023327
* ISBN-13: 9781591023326
* Format: Paperback, 357pp
* Publisher: Prometheus Books (PYR imprint)
* Pub. Date: June 2005

Although many cultures have a similar story, the most famous prodigal is that of the parable of Jesus told in Luke 15:11-31. In it, a young man takes his inheritance, leaves his family and seeks his fortune in the wider world. He soon learns that the world is a cruel place and ends up returning to his father. The term �prodigal� eventually came to mean one who returned after a long absence, usually when after finding trouble apart from their families. The prodigal in Charles Coleman Finlay�s The Prodigal Troll is Maggot, a young man heir to power who ends up being reared by a lowly troll.

Similar to Edgar Rice Burroughs� Tarzan of the Apes, Maggot is a human reared by a more bestial race. Finlay�s trolls are what we expect. Although not savage, they live in a primitive, subsistence life, and with the constant push of humanity into their territory, are slowly dying out. Maggot, being human finds that his nature is different from those of the trolls who raised him, as the find within his nature the desire to improve his life and those of the trolls who have become his family. Yet trolls do not seek to improve their lives, and when Maggot finds that trolls would rather keep the status quo than change, he leaves seeking both a mate and encounters with human culture.

Although Maggot�s seeking a mate drives much of the plot (the first true woman he sees he falls in love with, and his search for her is a great deal of the motivation for his continued interaction with humanity) it is really his interaction with the different societies of Finlay�s world that is most intriguing. This can really be broken up into three different cultures. The first is his life among the trolls. The second his life among the Gaelic/Native American tribal culture that is being overrun by the third culture, a western style medieval monarchy. Maggot interacts with characters from each and his feeble attempt to impose what he knows of troll culture onto human interactions creates both humor for the story and sympathy for his character.

Finlay�s exploration of the way humans interact with each other and the effect of war, love and the exotic on the human psyche is fun to read. Written in epic fantasy style, Finlay proves that epics do not have to take twelve volumes, or even a trilogy, to delve into the enigma that is humanity. Finlay writes with a wonderful cadence, inserting action at just the right moments, but allowing his characters time for introspection as well, but never so much has to slow the pace. The ebb and flow of the plot makes The Prodigal Troll a stay up all night read.

Although the novel is an epic fantasy in its formula, it is not formulaic. There is no pat answer to the questions it raises, and even the ending does not resolve in the way a reader comes to expect from epic fantasy. This is not to say that the ending is not satisfying (although in my opinion, it is a bit abrupt) just different from the standard. The concept of the �prodigal� has a lot to do with how the story is resolved.

At times, in battle scenes, I got a little lost as to the placement of characters, as perhaps too much is happening at one time. There are some elements, like the magic and the �Old Ones� that aren�t really explained, but in a sense that actually enhances the feeling of Maggot�s bewilderment. It is a violent novel, gruesomely describing some the horrors of sword and bow warfare. Weak stomachs beware. Maggot also learns languages a little too quickly to my mind, either that, or Finlay has failed to adequately make clear the length of time that has passed in which he learned it. This is a minor thing, but it stood out to me as a reader.

Readers of Black Gate will recognize some portions of the The Prodigal Troll, as it partially appeared in that magazine�s pages. Fans of Tarzan or the man-raised-by-wolves genre of story will love this addition to the canon. Finlay takes this genre and really uses it to explore and decry some of the excesses of the human race. Maggot is a part of humanity by nature, but very different form it by nurture and his outsider�s perspective on both human cultures glaringly portrayed humanity�s faults.

At the end of his acknowledgments to The Prodigal Troll, Charles Coleman Finlay asks if anybody is up for another book. My only answer to this question can be �yes, please.� Finlay writes entrancingly, and The Prodigal Troll, the first novel by this prolific short story writer, is a gem of the fantasy genre.

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