Walter Rhein’s The Reader of Acheron, is book one of the Slaves of Erafor series, a fantasy set on a future Earth at a time when reading is prohibited. The eponymous Reader is, necessarily, a figure of mystery living under threat of torture and death.
There is a prologue to the tale, which I’m not certain is essential and which may even stop some readers from moving into the tale itself. I have to tell you that it’s definitely worth getting past this short barrier. The real story, couched in language that evokes another time, builds inexorably to the denouement and an ending that closes this portion of what is clearly going to be a continuing adventure for those characters remaining.
There are two story threads that interweave. Initially, there appears to be no connection between these accounts, though clues and hints slowly build. Both tales describe the domain in which the characters exist, unfolding a world of slavery and class, where those not in the upper strata are either drug-addled slaves in everything including name or are paid slaves in everything but name. The whole of society is structured to maintain the status quo of those few with power and position.
Characters are well drawn and have their idiosyncrasies, making them human and accessible. As with a great number of books in this genre, women are little represented. But that results from the narrative viewpoints, which, in one case reduces female contact to the wife and child of the slave owner and, in the other, provides the typical mercenary soldier’s view of women.
There is a well expressed underlying theme here of the abuse of knowledge; the way in which society may be structured in such a way as to filter information and program learning so that it truly benefits only those at the peak of the social pyramid. Those in power, curating the knowledge, have a terror of their underlings discovering this knowledge, of course. The message is sobering and pertinent, but doesn’t get in the way of the story, which is well told and absorbing.
I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I was able to empathise with the characters and understand their motives, desires, hopes and anxieties. There is a great adventure here, but there is also a great deal more going on beneath the surface, and I have no hesitation in recommending this book. I look forward to the sequels.