The Last Ring-bearer
by Krill Eskov, translated by Yisroel Markov
My first book review is actually not of a traditional ‘book’. The Last Ring-bearer is in fact a piece of Russian fan-fiction, translated by another fan, and available for free download. However, it is an excellent story with an interesting twist, and worth bringing to the attention of a wider audience.
The Last Ring-bearer takes the well known, but slightly simplistic, construction of J.R.R. Tolkien and passes it through the filter that “History is written by the victors”. The resulting tale re-interprets much that occurs in the documented history of Lord of the Rings, casting the actions of the original heroes in a much darker light.
In this version, the Elves have striven, through the machinations of Gandalf and others, to keep power through maintaining Middle Earth in a pre-industrial agrarian state. Their magical skills provide an edge in such a world, but cannot stand against the widespread use of technology which would undoubtedly result otherwise. Seen through that filter the whole war of the ring takes a slightly more harrowing turn. The destruction of Mordor, and the resulting genocide against the peoples who lived there, is no longer a justified first strike, but instead becomes the purging of technology and those who seek to use it to improve people’s lot in life. It is no longer a defence against a sub-human race, but instead state-level Luddism, with the enemy characterised as evil sub-human monsters in order to justify their extermination.
Whilst the story is set in the Lord of the Rings universe, with some reuse of characters, this is generally just a lens through which to investigate how two observers may come up with diametrically opposed descriptions of an event. The whole tale is sufficiently different to, and with enough of a twist on, the original that it feels fresh, and keeps the reader interested. Moreover, contrary to some criticisms I have heard, I personally do not feel this work in any way diminishes LOTR.
The story itself is slightly complex at times, and has quite a medly of characters. Unfortunately I read it in a slightly piecemeal manner, which did leave me slightly confused at points. This is only a minor complaint however, and one I’m sure wouldn’t arise if the book is read over the course of less than a week.
Unfortunately the fact that I was reading a translation did feel apparent at times – there were grammar issues, and the tale at times appeared to randomly swap between present and past tenses. Some sentence construction tended a little too much to the informal, and not in keeping with rest of novel. A bit of time with an editor would much improve things. Overall though, I was happy to take the rough with the smooth, and would recommend you do so also. It should be remembered that this is a fan translation of fan fiction (albeit of the highest calibre). And it was still in much better shape than your typical Dan Brown book….
The Russian source of the story felt apparent in not just the words, but the storyline itself: distrust of leaders, a conciousness of political machinations, the acceptance of double-talk and of wide-spread involvement of intelligence services and secret police. This is in no way a criticism however, rather these more modern aspects of the story are intriguing when applied against the rustic world of Middle Earth.
In conclusion, the story is an excellent read and fresh in it’s reinterpretation of the original work. A should-read for any lover of the original, but keep an open mind rather than being a slavish adherent to the cult of LOTR.
Ease of reading: 3/5
Value for money: 5/5
The book can be downloaded for free from here, in both the original Russian and as an English translation.