It’s a fantasy novel that doesn’t read like a fantasy novel; that’s the first surprise.
The second surprise is that I can’t quite figure out why.
And the third surprise is that I decided it doesn’t matter; this is a fascinating story.
Be’askaas is a land comprised of mountains and hills, plains and valleys, a big land full of farms and towns, kingdoms, open spaces, forests, and various kinds of people who may, or may not, be like each other. It is a land of wizards and necromancers who can do strange things, like create zombies. It can be terrifying or at least scary to run into one, but they’re not really all that common. And occasionally farmers have use for zombies as well, like when a bull dies right before the ground was to be plowed for planting. The farmer can ask the local wizard for help in raising the bull to the undead – at least until the plowing is done.
Be’askaas is the title of a novel by Nicholas Kerkhoff, a fantasy story (sort of) that doesn’t sound a bit like most fantasy stories. Many contemporary fantasy stories seem derivative of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Even with its wizards (and an intelligent dragon), Be’askaas does not.
Thirteen-year-old Rafe and his younger brother Gywn face tumultuous change. Their family is breaking up; the family farm has been lost. One older brother joins the army, another goes to make his way in the city, a sister is marrying the local blacksmith and two other sisters are headed for the nunnery. The two boys are apprenticed to a wizard, a necromancer who lives several days journey away. And so, they make their way to their new master.
They’re greeted by the wizard’s servant, a decayed zombie, and soon find themselves doing the familiar work of a farm. Then the wizard begins their training. They learn the casting of rudimentary, simple spells (like the raising of the dead bull) and they find they’re enjoying the work. At least they’re being fed well.
And then, one day, the soldiers arrive, and the real adventures begin.
Kerkhoff is a writer and filmmaker who lives in Santa Cruz, California. In addition to a number of short films (he has a YouTube channel), he has written a sequel to Be’askaas entitled Fates of the Dead and a collection of short stories, poetry, and other writings, Art, Age, and Alcohol.
Be’askaas is a well-written novel; it includes discussions of philosophy and science, the meaning of life, the proper way to learn, and other subjects. It is a fantasy story, but it has a contemporary sense to it that marks it as something different and exceptional in the genre.
Top photograph by Ethan Hoover via . Used with permission.