Review: The Madness of Pursuit
The Madness of Pursuit is an absorbing novella that tells the story of Dema Ägan, a notorious pirate whose litany of crimes are being examined by the archivists of Quiru and one curious outsider who is taking more than a historical interest in her story. The book, divided into parts, is a disjointed third person past tense account of Ägan’s adventures and a first-person present account of the outsider’s scholarly reflections on what has been read.
Rafala has assembled a story and premise that is attempting to do an awful lot in a limited page count. Firstly, the framing device of using the scholar serves to provide a twist at the end, but also distances the reader from the body of the story, as we are reading along with our investigator. That said, it is a positive mark in Rafala’s writing that you never feel the investigator getting in the way.
A more difficult decision to accept is the non-linear arrangement of Ägan’s story. With such a small page count and such a traditional style for the main part of the writing, this is initially a surprise, but it is clear to see the author’s intention. The linear experience is that of the investigator, and this is where they do make their presence felt on the writing – in its structure.
We begin with the most recent events and then dive back in different sections to learn the reasons for Ägan’s actions as each cause and effect builds on another to allow us to eventually come forward and see events at their logical conclusion.
Rafala is packing a lot into this novella. The story is worthy of being told in a novel and to keep it contained in 112 pages means that there are some compromises. The setting and technology of the world Rafala outlines is mentioned but not dwelt upon. We hurry past at breakneck speed, focusing on the swirl of events that are as stormy as the seas on which any of them are set. This has the effect of keeping the reader unsettled as well. At times, events move so quickly and with such complexity of their order in Ägan’s life, it all becomes beyond the capacity of this reader to keep track and an immersion breaking re-read is required. On balance, this story and this world is deserving of a more in-depth treatment. The technology of Rafala’s world, the imagery of the seas and the lives of the people could easily be explored in a 300+ page novel that contained the same level of intricate plot.
The heart of the story – a relationship between Ägan and Rymah, her witch companion is again, an element that could be given more depth and detail in a longer work. The intricate strangeness of the J’Niah – Rymah’s people – is fascinating and only told through glimpses of their isolated existence from each other and the way in which they affect Ägan and the other people they encounter.
The twist of the story, revealed to the investigator at the end is well executed and might have been lost in a longer work.
The Madness of Pursuit evokes some of the classic mythological structures of sea fantasy. A more expansive story, set in the same world, that offers a more detailed and vivid vision of Rafala’s world will hopefully follow.