Book Review: The Dark Age of Enya

Wait. What? How can you be reviewing “The Dark Age of Enya”? Aren’t you the author? Yes, I am. But I am not going to be reviewing it. What I am going to do is post the two official reviews from 2004. The first is the most infamous, the one I have mentioned many a time on my blog and in my bio—the one that broke my heart, that utterly destroyed my confidence, the Dear John letter to my writing career. Why am I bothering with this? Because the damn thing has been haunting me ever since 2004. By posting it here, by confronting it again, by looking at it openly for what it is, I hope to dispel its power over me.

Looking at it now, you may wonder what all of the fuss was about. You had to understand my mindset at the time. I was already depressed by my failure to generate sales. I did book signings, sought magazine reviews, and tried my darnedest to promote it on related forums where I was often treated like a computer criminal. This review was my last hope. So without further ado, here it is,

Xandr is the last man of his people, the Ilmar. After the destruction of his home by the dark centaur Nessus, Xandr wanders the realms of the world of Enya bearing the legendary sword Emmaxis, knowing only that he has been chosen by the goddess Alashiya to be the Batal of legend who will end the Dark Age.

Following a summons to the city of Hedonia, only to witness the destruction of Hedonia at the hands of the Merquid, Xandr flees with his fellow Ilmar Thelana, the last woman of his people, and the golem Grimosse, to seek out his destiny.

If you’re thinking this sounds predictable, you would be right. The back cover of the book as well as Nick Alimonos’ own commentary on Amazon plays up the fact that he is tired of formula-driven fantasy and wanted to create something meaningful. While there are some good moments here and there, The Dark Age of Enya fails to live up to this ideal.

Aside from the plot that leaves little to the imagination, the characters don’t fare much better. Despite Alimonos’ attempts to provide some background for them (which does manage to be one of the better bits of the story), they never really rise above the archetypes of fantasy, especially Xandr.

Finally, the style could have used a bit more buffing. I hate to criticize too much on this point since it is the author’s first published novel, but let it be said.

The Dark Age of Enya has its share of issues but if you’re looking for something that doesn’t break the mold of “traditional” fantasy, this may be right up your.

He gave The Dark Age of Enya a 5 out of 10 stars, which doesn’t sound too bad. It was more the critique itself that hurt, and honestly, if he found so little to like, I wonder why he even bothered with the 5? Why not 2 or 3? I was never quite sure what “seek out his destiny” means. The review makes very little mention of any plot points beyond that, and to this day I wonder how far he actually read. He claims the story “sounds predictable” but I’d be willing to bet all the money I have that no reader could have predicted what follows: Xandr goes to the desert and finds a magic jewel which alters space/time, allowing him to relive the life of his ancestor. I also doubt he could have foreseen the little excursion to the island of Aea (now excised from the novel) where Xandr relates the tale of how he, as a young man, fell in love with a priestess forbidden from knowing a man and, during sex, watched the priestess be turned into a Medusa. If he honestly saw that coming, I’ll gladly shoot myself. He calls it “traditional fantasy” yet there is nothing in it regarding elves, dwarves, vampires, zombies, or schools of magic, or anything Tolkienesque whatsoever. The thing is, I bear him no ill-will. I honestly don’t. If he did not feel the story was interesting or well written enough to continue reading, that was my failure, not his. I only wish he could have been more honest. Or, if he really did read the whole thing (I will never know) it would have been nice for him to have pointed out the more unique aspects. For instance, he never once mentions how Xandr and Thelana are nude throughout most of the story, or how that philosophy played into the plot.

It wasn’t just one man’s opinion that hurt me so. His review was read by hundreds of people and my reputation as a writer, something I’ve worked tirelessly at for decades, was forever tarnished. At the very least, he could have thrown me a bone, mentioned a single thing he liked. If I ever get the chance to meet him, or if he stops by my blog, however, I will thank him. Without his review, I may never have found the motivation to improve, to be the best writer I can be, and Ages of Aenya would not exist. 

Here is the second review, which was featured in H&E Magazine, by Tim Forcer:

Woohoo! Several “firsts” for Yarns Without Threads. The first book to be featured on the site before publication, the first book reviewed here which has been published by a non-traditional publisher, and the first to be illustrated with the author demonstrating his naturism.

Nick Alímonos has been producing stories since the age of six, entertaining staff and customers in his father’s Greek restaurant. After an arduous literary apprenticeship, he has reached the milestone of publishing his first novel, The Dark Age of Enya. And what a milestone! More than 500 pages of “sword and sorcery”, as hero Xandr pursues his quest and destiny across the world of Enya, through landscapes both benign and hostile.

Sword and sorcery is a very old tradition of story-telling – possibly the oldest. Alímonos is not afraid to acknowledge one of the earliest in this tradition, that ancient Greek, Homer. He also quotes from or nods to a wide range of SF and fantasy authors, from Adams to Zelazny. But this is no derivative imitation or poor copy; Alímonos delivers a tale which is well-constructed and moves along at a fair pace. There are a few rough edges along the way – being your own publisher’s editor, as is the norm for those published by print-on-demand Xlibris, must make it more difficult to pick up minor typos – but these didn’t affect my enjoyment. The main characters are all fully-developed, with faults and foibles as well as skills and accomplishments.

Alímonos has been a naturist for a long time, and, partly because this is important to him, has incorporated naturist concepts and ideals into the book. Xandr is an Ilmarinen, a race whose society is totally naturist: “no more than ornamentally clad when possible, dressed when the climate demanded it”. Other cultures on Enya have different mores. Most are emphatically textile, creating difficulties, tensions and irritations for Xandr and his Ilmar companion, Thelana (right), obliging them to cover up with at least a loincloth for Xandr and tunic for Thelana. A minority of societies accept nudity for young people, or tolerate the customs of strangers, providing the wandering Ilmarinen with welcome relief.

Nudity, particularly female nudity, is not unusual in fantasy writing, and has also been a staple of SF&F illustrations and book covers. Generally, this is used to provide titillation, or to add a sexual overlay to an otherwise a-sexual tale. Alímonos is different in that his Ilmarinen naturism is portrayed as something intrinsic to the character of its people – there is no sensationalism. Yet he does not attempt to ignore the sexual import of nakedness for those shackled by cultural taboos on social nudity. Xandr and Thelana face a range of disapproving attitudes ranging from disapproval to outright condemnation and disgust – you can read some of these cultural clashes in the extracts, along with expositions of what nudity means to the Ilmarinen.

Although many of the stories discussed on Yarns Without Threads refer explicitly to naturism, only two are known to have been written by naturists: The Dark Age of Enya and Glory Road. Interestingly, the latter is also a sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel. While Heinlein’s sorcery is of the “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” variety, Alímonos uses supernatural intervention – sparingly – as an extra ingredient.

Overall, I think The Dark Age of Enya is an accomplished first novel. Its conclusion indicates that there may be further adventuring to come from Xandr – I hope so, and look forward to more naturist-friendly fiction from Alímonos.

You probably won’t find The Dark Age of Enya in your local bookshop, but it is available from Amazon, or direct from Xlibris.

As you can plainly see, Tim Forcer was a lot more enthusiastic about The Dark Age of Enya. In fact, he gave it his highest rating, 3 out of 3. He also quotes several lines that appear toward the end of the book, so I know he read it in its entirety. What was especially encouraging was when Forcer wrote, this is no derivative imitation or poor copy, greatly contradicting the first review.

The problem I had with Forcer’s review, however, was that I never fully trusted it. H&E Magazine is dedicated to promoting the nudist lifestyle and The Dark Age of Enya basically did the same. It would be like FOX NEWS reviewing a book by Bill O’ Reilly; there is bound to be some bias.

Finally, after ten years of transforming myself as a writer, and The Dark Age of Enya into Ages of Aenya, I think I can honestly offer my two cents about Enya:

The Dark Age of Enya is an imaginative read, with no shortage of battle scenes, monsters, and exotic locations. The two main characters, Xandr and Thelana, spend a majority of their time in the buff—and author Nick Alimonos, being a nudist himself—makes no apologies for this. On the plus side, the setting is a considerable departure from the many Tolkien clones published these days; there isn’t an elf, dwarf, zombie or evil wizard to be found. The novel also isn’t afraid to take risks, throwing any idea out there no matter how bizarre. One moment they are flying on giant birds and the next battling a cyborg to stop an alien invasion. Xandr and Thelana’s exploits are very reminiscent of “John Carter of Mars” or “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad” and if that’s your thing, you may find something here to enjoy. Unfortunately, Alimonos’ crams several books worth of story into one, which allows very little room for character development. The numerous plots and subplots spread throughout the novel’s 500 pages are minimally explored, so that conflicts are resolved too quickly without any sense of tension. In this regard, “The Dark Age of Enya” hearkens back to an older, pulp fantasy style from the 30’s and 40’s, like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “The Land that Time Forgot.” Finally, the writing sometimes suffers from overlong and awkward sentences, with enough adjectives to make H.P. Lovecraft jealous. Hopefully, Nick Alimonos will continue to hone his skills and find his own voice as he may someday have something worthwhile to offer the genre. My review: ** out of **** 

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Dark Age of Enya

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  1. I bought a second hand copy of Dark Age from Amazon in December, and I must say it was an enjoyable read and a fascinating journey throughout Enya.

    However, I have to agree on several of the critiques that the first review moves to your book. True enough, there are no elves and no dwarves, and it distances itself neatly from the Lord of the Rings, but only to fall into He-Man's arms. The references to Eternia were almost on-your-face, with Stratos, Mer-Man, Beast-Man, and the Sorceress, not to mention the Snake Men (this one was doubly painful, because as a child they were my favourite, and in my stories they were the good guys!). So, in terms of originality, you lost a few points here. Also, the adventurers team is the classic damage-dealer, tank, ranged-shooter, and buffer that you find in any electronic RPG.

    On the plot I have to say that, while it was in no way predictable, and pretty much every page brought with it a surprise, it was also strikingly linear. There is only ever one “thread” going on, usually following the four main characters. Compare that to the Lord of the Rings, where at some points there are 3 or 4 parallel stories that we are following, and we care for all of them because if any character was to fail, the all would fail. (I've read it many many years ago so I cannot quote examples here.) DAoE gave us a couple of flashbacks, at most.

    Gosh I hope this doesn't start to sound too much like a rant, but as I'm typing, more things come to my mind. I have a problem with consistency. Xandr says more than once that they're a people of hunters, and all they need to survive is a weapon. So how comes that when the goblins come, they just stand there to be slaughtered? Why didn't they pick up their weapon and use it on the goblins? Or hide in the forest, use the terrain for their advantage, and make a relentless guerilla? Also, why is everybody so obsessed with Thelana's breasts? I'd understand it in a Medieval fantasy settings, but here we are in the time of ancient Rome, pardon Hedonia; I believe that breast fetish came much later than that — the Romans may have found it odd, but certainly not offensive. At some point you have Emma say that she's shy about being nude because she comes from a cold Country, up in the mountains; as far as I know, however, people from cold countries up in the mountains (think Switzerland or Austria) are by far some of the most open-minded regarding nudity.

    Last but not least, and here I close my rant, I was a bit disappointed by the finale (SPOILER ALERTS). So there's the three of them stuck naked in the middle of a snowy mountain range. And? I was hoping to see them make it back, with Nessus's head in a bag, to brag about their achievements, and people will cheer them as saviours of the planet and won't care anymore about their nudity. But as far as I know, they'll probably freeze to death in the dark hemisphere.

    Nevertheless, please rest assured that I've enjoyed reading DAoE. My favourite fantasy book is yet to be written, and I'm sure that with a more complex plot, and less influence from He-Man, you could write that book.


  2. Alberto, I hope you realize I wrote that book in 2003, over ten years ago, and that I have since rewritten it. The rewrite, I believe, is greatly superior in every way. Now to some of your issues:

    1) I agree about the He-Man references, but they are quite minimal, and I wanted to pay homage to what inspired me as a child, to make a darker, more realistic and mature version of the fantasy we all grew up with. The first people I marketed the book to were He-Man fans. Nevertheless, the He-Man references relate only to some of the races and then the second half contain no He-Man references at all. As for the RPG elements, I can't argue; Grimosse is the tank and Thelana the ranged fighter. The rewrite follows the same characters/races, but I think I have added enough personality and detail to make them more interesting. After all, I could write the thousandth vampire novel, but I chose instead to explore naturist heroes, winged humans, snaked headed aliens and fish people, none of which are unique to He-Man but common mythological creatures found in much of fantasy.

    2) The book is linear because it is that type of story. It's an adventure in the tradition of the Odyssey, Seven Voyages of Sinbad and John Carter of Mars. Even the Hobbit is linear. However, in the rewrite I take great lengths to tell the story from different perspectives, so while Xandr is doing one thing, we read about what Thelana and Emma are doing elsewhere.

    3) The Ilmar are not a people of hunters! The only time we learn about the Ilmar is in Thelana's back story, which places emphasis on her family's struggle to survive by farming. Thelana learned to use the bow from outsiders. Hunting is only briefly mentioned. As for the goblin invasion, I don't know where you get the idea that they just stood there to be slaughtered. Xandr and his mentor put up a long good fight before his mentor was killed, then Xandr fought until he was defeated and left for dead. As for what happened to Thelana's family, the book does not say—that is a mystery left for another story.

    4) As for Thelana's breasts, I don't know what you're talking about. Here I can prove my case; of the book's 144,850 words, “breasts” appears only 6 times, and in only 4 is it in reference to Thelana as a descriptor. Nudity is a big theme in DoE, but goes way beyond breasts; Xandr is fully naked throughout the story as is Thelana. As for setting, the story does not take place during Medieval or Roman times; it has nothing to do with Earth history at all. But assuming for a moment that Aenya was Earth, as a history major I can guarantee that a naked woman walking the streets of Rome would be thought insane. Total nudity has only been accepted in the Amazon rain forest, Sparta of Ancient Greece during athletic events, Roman bath houses, and in certain religious festivals. Ilmarin-type naturism, living naked 24/7, was only practiced by prehistoric man, in the Amazon, and by modern nudists. As for Emma, the Delians may be more closely related to Great Britain, where public nudity will get you jailed. Point is, I needed Emma as a foil for the Ilmar to create conflict.

    5) I have been told by a few other people that the story needed more closure and I agree. The rewrite ends in an entirely different place so it's no longer an issue. As for Xandr and Thelana freezing to death . . . are you kidding? The Ilmar always find a way to survive!

    Well, I appreciate your comments, although it is odd being critiqued on something I wrote a decade ago. I agree with some of your criticisms and I think there are many more you could have noted. I am glad you enjoyed the book. Hopefully, you'll enjoy “Ages of Aenya” even more.


  3. I just wanted to make one thing clear to readers: “Ages of Aenya” is in no way a knockoff of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. There is no magical transformation that turns a prince into a superhero. Xandr does not possess super human strength. He does not ride a green tiger or any animal for that matter (other than a woolly mammoth for traveling). There is no magical castle or any other place needing defending. There is no skull-faced villain or evil wizard to be defeated. Aenya is not a world of technology. The only similarities between Eternia and Aenya are the races mentioned. In fact, the merquid of Aenya have have more in common with the Deep Ones from H.P. Lovecraft's short stories; they have thin gelatinous bodies, crystalline teeth and lay eggs. The bird men of Aenya are as close to Stratos as the bird people in Zelda: The Wind Waker. Avians don't rely on jetpacks to fly and their bodies are covered in feathers of different colors. Stratos, by contrast, resembles a muscular gray monkey with wing straps and aviator goggles. While Alberto may have felt the similarities were too close, with countless books about dragons, elves, vampires, zombies and werewolves out there—bird people and amphibious people, I feel, are quite original.


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