If the wordy nature of its titling is any indication, author A.L. Zuniga’s book is hardcore fantasy, and proud of it. Likely the beginning of an epic fantasy franchise, the first tome’s name – specifically, The Elder Scrolls – Žaneta’s Chronicles: Part One: Vvardenfell – perfectly encapsulates the detailed and sprawling narrative concerning the adventures and tribulations of Žaneta. A mysterious, animal-like entity that works as a smith, the valiant creature is forced into a desperate situation when her husband is murdered and her children disappear. Her subsequent trek to find them, coupled with her considerable magic abilities, could be the stuff of a hammy, derivate knock-off piece. But Zuniga has too much style to let that happen. You can tell he genuinely has affection, maybe even out-and-out love for, these characters and the worlds in which they inhabit.
There’s never a sense of anything being rushed, nor anything not thought out down to its last iota. Outside of the book’s fixations and topical themes, Zuniga structurally is interested in telling something that has all the foundations and components of a good story. He never forsakes any of that for fan service, or cheap narrative tricks. The result is a book bucking all the common trends and pitfalls naysayers of the genre, and genre entertainment in general, are quick to point out. The ideas and themes highlighted within the fantasy context in some cases are universal, and in some cases even disquietingly timely. Take, for instance, the age-old horror of a mother searching for her missing children. Or, for that matter, a group of realms clashing over political differences, while a mysterious epidemic looms over the entirety of the world the protagonist resides in.
All these factors add up to something regardless of the reader’s age or background that keeps them invested. The expert mixture of both fantastical literality and apt metaphor call to mind the tonality of a C.S. Lewis Horse and His Boy, or even The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Zuniga he does possess that uncanny ability to make even the most childlike and decidedly bizarre moments feel three-dimensional and real…
Zuniga himself is a man of interesting background. His service in the marine corps likely differs from the enthusiasm and whimsicality so effortlessly displayed in the pages of The Elder Scrolls – Zaneta’s Chronicles: Part One: Vvardenfell. In many ways, Zuniga may be drawing from two distinct, referential mediums for the tonal juggling he’s able to do for Vvardenfell. Making entrees like the book work within its aforementioned qualities and bandwidth of storytelling is a balancing act. A deliberate, carefully orchestrated set of events and aesthetical choices that to the reader must appear spontaneous and effortless.
It’s not something achievable for amateurs, and as much as I enjoyed the first book in the series, I can’t wait to read the second and third parts of the trilogy, and see what Zuniga does next as he continues to stretch and develop his abilities as a literary voice in the 2022 market.