Book Review: The Absent Lord by Jason Beacon

28 Oct

I read this book after receiving it through the Goodreads First Reads program. The description reminded me of The Princess Bride and I was intrigued and was a lucky winner.

Cover Image from Goodreads.com

Cover Image from Goodreads.com

The Absent Lord by Jason Beacon

Beacon describes this book as ‘not quite a novel’ and I’m guessing it’s because of the length.  While 192 pages, the book itself is physically small and would amount to a much thinner book if printed in a more traditional publishing size. I liked the small book, it was refreshing after the 900 page Harry Potter I’m working on. It’s set up as a story-within-a-story. While I’ve seen a few plays and movies in this format, I had yet to read a book in the style.

The outer story is of a man named Marcus who suddenly loses his job . Marcus takes the news badly and his girlfriend, Elizabeth, recommends he see Dr. Ummond, a non-traditional psychiatrist.  Marcus finds Dr. Ummond unbearable and after a brief session says he will not return.  Nonetheless, he is back days later and Ummond says that he can help solve Marcus’s problems if he will agree to listen to the story of the Absent Lord. If Marcus is not changed by the end, he does not have to pay for the sessions.  Marcus agrees.

The Absent Lord is the story of a great lord who agrees to join with the other lords and royalty of his kingdom to go on a quest to find an island of great riches. He leaves his home in the care of his servants and departs, expecting to be gone for a year, two at most. As soon as he is out of the castle, his servants begin breaking into his library and acquiring all of the knowledge therein. Having become so educated, they are beyond their household duties and spend their days with friends who are also well educated and the house falls into disrepair.

Ten years later, the Lord has not returned and the cook begins to reminisce about the good old days. She finds a stranger in the road who has lost his memory and agrees to take him in to help around the house now that the servants are either drunk, having panic attacks, or too intellectual to help. The former beast-tender has started becoming a philanderer and a woman he snubs brings her castle to the Lord’s castle to attack it. In their misery, the servants are all longing for the Lord to come back.  The cook starts to suspect that the stranger is their Absent Lord and is able to trick him into remembering how to write and shows the stranger that his handwriting matches that of the Absent Lord. The Lord’s memory comes flooding back and he recalls that he has given the cook a key to his top-floor study which she produces. He goes to the tower and lights one of his hand-crafted candles, letting the Princess in the neighboring castle, his true love, know that he has returned.

The story moves Marcus in ways he cannot understand. He begins to ask about others well-being and focus on his relationship with his girlfriend rather than his joblessness. He cannot articulate that he is changed and does not have to pay Ummond’s fee but leaves a changed man.

The Absent Lord was a cute little novel.  Using the story-within-a-story technique made what would have been a child-like fairy tale something that adults could relate to. I’ll admit that I was more of a fan of the internal story than the external story and I almost feel that I should review them separately. Like Marcus couldn’t understand his changes, as the reader I was also unsure of how the story connected to his change in mood. I saw the parallelism between the story’s message to look out for those around you and Marcus’ change to be sensitive to other’s needs, but I didn’t see how the story caused this change.

A very prevalent motif in the book was a lit candle. The lit candle tracked the time Marcus and Ummond spent together, it tracked the time the Lord was away from his home, and in the end, it was able to open a door. The motif even went so far that Beacon included a tea candle in the package when he sent me his book. I could even go on to call it a symbol and extrapolate on the meaning, but I could be way off. My best guess would be the light is insight burning inside of Marcus.

Beacon was making a point about being unselfish and thinking of the welfare of those worse off than oneself. I didn’t see Marcus as particularly selfish leading up to his transformation, so it was somewhat hard for me to see him as changed at the end. The transformation of the servants in the inner story was more obvious to me, especially the cook, who was my favorite character by far.

Writer’s Takeaway: Beacon’s technique of using a story-within-a-story allows him to use something usually associated with children, a fairy tale, and make it applicable to adults by giving the outer characters very mature problems. It’s something I’d never considered before.

There were a few things in the story that detracted from my enjoyment of it. Specifically the tendency to refer to someone in dialogue as ‘the other.’ It wasn’t incorrect, but unusual enough to make me stop and think. There were a few times I thought the text contradicted itself (Elizabeth described as both plain and beautiful for example) and I was confused about what I was supposed to think at the end. I wasn’t completely sure Marcus was cured (and how bad of a situation his relationship had been in in the first place) and how the inner and outer stories connected. The names of the inner story characters showed up surrounding Dr. Ummond in the end and I think I was supposed to think the story was real, but instead I thought the inner story author stole names from Ummond’s friends. I think adding a little more detail to the outer story would have helped to connect the inner and outer stories and made the novella seem more cohesive as a whole. While as writers we are told to value brevity, I feel we can sometimes be too brief and could benefit from more backstory.

Three out of five stars, a nice short read.

Until next time, write on.

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One Response to “Book Review: The Absent Lord by Jason Beacon”

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  1. Goodreads Challenge: Complete! | Taking on a World of Words - December 20, 2013

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