Fantasy world-building doesn’t get much better than this.
Jeff VanderMeer remarked that it was a shame that Acacia, as well as other wonderful and daring books, was missing from the list of finalists for the World Fantasy Best Novel Award. I am as well; to me, there is no excuse, for Acacia is among the best of heavy-duty world-building fantasies, the last of which we’ve seen is George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, and the first of which we ever saw was Tolkien’s venerated Lord of the Rings.
Acacia can stand proud along with them, these giants of the large-scale fantasy field, because it encompasses their very best attributes: a complex world with histories and cultures and even geographies that are believable and varied, and an intriguing story with a large cast that never loses our interest in either plot or characterization—a living, breathing world and tale that wraps you up and does not let you go.
As an interesting side note: the best of large-scale fantasy, the ones that feel the most authentic, have a historical heart beating inside them. Their authors are deeply engrained in the study of history in one way or another—with Tolkien and his extra interest in languages and their effect on historical cultures; George R. R. Martin with his well-known fascination with the history and times of the War of the Roses; and David Anthony Durham with his host of historical novels, set from the American West to the Roman Republic.
In terms of reading punch, Acacia moves relatively quickly compared to Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings, and yet it’s no less complex or immersive than either. This should come as a relief to those of us who are used to a lot of dead time, or to extra detail that, while pleasing, means we spend less than five years spread out over 5000 pages. Instead, Acacia snakes along across its enormous story without missing a single beat, and the first book is indeed the soul equivalent, if not actual number-of-pages equivalent, of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and, yes, I say it, over half of Song of Ice and Fire, which will only just get to its “pass over five years” point, it is rumored anyways, by the end of A Dance of Dragons.
(Indeed, Acacia itself is divided internally into three “books”, but it’s by no means 3000 pages—it’s about the size of A Game of Thrones; now doesn’t that go back.)
One thing I also love about Acacia is that not everybody is white, frankly speaking. The peoples of Acacia are all colors and cultures; it really is a world unto itself, rather than a single continent or something. I still love SOIF and LOTR to little bits, of course, but this aspect of Acacia is special.
So, dear reader, go and read what the judges of the World Fantasy Award are missing—go and read Acacia.