Hero Born by Andy Livingstone

June 7, 2015

When Brann is wrenched from his family home after witnessing its destruction and the death of those he holds dear, he is thrust into a life of slavery.

Miles away, a deposed and forgotten Emperor seeks an instrument to use in his bid to rise once again to power. Ruthless and determined, nothing and no one will stand in his way.

Brann might be the Emperor’s tool, but heroes can be forged in the most unlikely of ways…

What does it take to be a hero? Is it something buried deep within, or can a hero be shaped by the events that surround them? This debut novel from Andy Livingstone sets out to explore that very topic.

I warmed to Brann immediately. He has a way of looking at the world that is far more analytical than everyone else. When he finds himself in a dangerous situation, which happens more often than he would like, he has the ability to emotionally detach from events and view things from a more rational viewpoint. Brann is a keen observer of humanity and learns quickly. From farm boy to galley slave and then to page for a warrior Lord, it is fascinating to watch his character begin to evolve.

Initially Brann is filled with anger regarding his predicament, being ripped from the bosom of your family will do that to you, but the more he learns, the more he comes to realise that not everything is  quite as black and white as he first assumed. As our hero adjusts to his new life, there are a few suggestions that something far larger is happening. Brann has fallen in with a group who have dangerous enemies and there are plans afoot that have the potential to reshape nations.

The other characters that Livingstone introduces all fit well within the confines of the story. I particularly liked the others slaves that Brann ends up with. There is a slave called Grakk who stands out. Who says you can’t be covered in tattoos and still be eloquent? It’s clear that many underestimate Grakk’s intelligence because of his appearance. I suspect to do so would be an entirely foolish, or even potentially fatal, thing to do.

Each chapter begins with a short scene following a second narrative. An old man ponders the politics of empire building, and considers plans for how he can insert himself back into the cut and thrust of the political game. Watching these two concurrent narratives unfold, and trying to figure at what point they will actually meet, is a welcome addition to the plot. Brann’s adventures are going to tie in with this mysterious old fella at some point, but the question is exactly when and how. 

Things aren’t entirely cerebral in Hero Born. There is plenty of action to enjoy as well. There is a swift, efficient brutality to the fight scenes. When characters raise arms, it is to kill not to hurt; this is all about survival of the fittest. Brann is initially shocked at this attitude but the further he travels and the more he experiences understanding blooms. There are reasons why swift decisive action is required.

How best to classify Hero Born then? It’s a fantasy novel with a distinctly historical air. The different clans read like groups you’ll have heard of before. Brann comes from a group that could easily be the ancient Britons. The slavers he falls foul of could be Vikings, and the old emperor could be Roman or Greek. The fantasy elements are all quite subtle. There is some prophecy mentioned but that’s about it. I rather like this approach. It gives proceedings a far more realistic air. To be honest you could probably remove the fantastical elements, rename some of the locations, and still have entirely serviceable historical fiction novel.

In a nutshell, Hero Born is a beginning. These are the first few, faltering steps of a much larger journey. There are flashes of the man that Brann will come to be, but he’s not there yet. He makes mistakes and misjudges situations, but these errors provide valuable experience. It works for me; I’m far more interested in reading about characters that are realistic and fallible.

Unpicking the nature of heroism and the hero’s journey, Livingstone has crafted a compelling debut. I’ll be looking out for more from this author in future. Andy Livingstone has my attention with his first novel. I look forward to discovering where he, and Brann, go next. Hero Born sets things up nicely, contains a host of colourful characters and promises an on-going series that will deliver an absorbing tale.

Hero Born is published by Harper Voyager and available now.

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