The Mark of Ran; Paul Kearney, 2005; Bantam Books
A writer has less than five pages to grab my rather short attention span, unless they are someone like Terry Brooks who’s ten or twenty page introduction is almost always worth the wait. Paul Kearney managed to do it within two, by using the theory less is more; at least in the beginning.
For the majority of “The Mark of Ran”, a first in what was originally intended to be a four book series, the author invests a considerable about of time developing his main character’s Rowen and Rol Cortishane – particularly the mystery surrounding Rol. And though I am not a sailing buff myself, Kearney’s well placed nautical terminology didn’t leave me lost and wondering in the wilderness of ‘guy stuff’. Instead it left me feeling as though I’d just finished a really enjoyable story and couldn’t wait to read Book Two; “The Forsaken Earth”
But this review isn’t really about the story or whether I like or don’t like tales written about sea pirates and confused young men. Rather its about style and whether the author’s writing should be lauded or panned. Since I’m not particularly fond of being mean just for the sake of being mean, if this had been about a poorly written book, I’d either not have written a review or at least have watered down the criticism. But fortunately for all who read it, The Mark of Ran is not a poorly written book; if anything Kearney’s authorship is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Fact is, if I were to compare his ability to paint stories rather than tell them, I’d have to compare him to Norman McClean; author of “A River Runs Through It”. Which when you think about it is weird because McClean didn’t write fantasy and his stories certainly don’t rise out of the landscapes of mythology or Nintendo Game Boys (though theology was at the heart of at least the first one).
So why the comparison?
When I read “The River Runs Through It” I was immediately struck by the author’s ability to describe fly fishing in a way that made me feel as though I was right there. As if I were the one casting the line, gauging how the current would carry the fly and what each ripple and swell of water meant. I became the character. I stood in that river, under an August sun completely melded with the moment. And it didn’t matter that I’d never been fly fishing a day in my life, or that I melt in temperatures above 72 degrees, or that I wouldn’t know a ‘Bass Popper’ from a ‘Sneaky Pete’ if one snagged itself in my pink Roper hat. All that was important is that the author did and he used that knowledge to immerse me in his experience – empowering me to make it my own.
And that is exactly what Kearney has done; used words to bring us vicariously into his experience and then invite us to make it our own.
Can’t wait to sneak off with the second book and spend the day sailing, drinking cheap wine and finding out whether Rol Cortishane is god or man.
On my reader’s scale of 1 to 5 I’m giving “The Mark of Ran” 4 stars for being a darn good story and 5 to Paul Kearney for writing it so well I now want my own pirate ship.