No matter how far you travel, your past is only a step behind you.
The above statement illustrates the underlying theme of D.E.M. Emrys's "From Man to Man". This short story clocks in at barely 40 pages but is enough to whet your appetite for the larger "It Begins with Ashes".
"From Man to Man" follows the character of Draven, a retired mercenary as he tries to settle down into a 'normal' life. It opens up with an almost heartbreaking scene of Draven imagining himself talking to his sleeping wife and telling her how hard he tried and how he is sorry he failed her.
This initially led me to believe that Draven was going to be leaving his wife and son and going back to his life before. Instead you find him at what you learn is yet another odd job trying to earn a living. You also are treated to the litany of other jobs in the town that he failed at.
This story is a well-crafted and engaging look at someone used to living on the outside of society trying to find their place in the midst of society. The pace is smooth and free of wild tangents. Not once did I find myself stopping to ask why Draven would have reacted in such a way to a situation.
He doesn't suddenly decide to do anything just because it fits the story. Instead the reader is treated to a complex character who never does anything 'just because.' Emrys very early on establishes Draven's mindset and motivation, and never strays from such.
When Draven makes the choice to take on 'other work', it is not out of character and the reader certainly understands why.
- Draven - The inner conflict of the character is almost as interesting as the external forces pulling at him.
- Shrike (The Huntsman) - The character serves as a wonderful contrast to Draven as the outsider who found a way to fit into society. Though I must admit that every time I read his name, I want to go watch the American television series "Hannibal".
My only gripe about the story is the 'teaser' for "It Began with Ashes". Before reading the teaser, I was hungry and eager for more of Draven. I wanted to know his backstory. I wanted to know what the future held for him. Or how his wife would react to the odd jobs he was taking.
Unfortunately, the teaser focused on Nicholas, the tax collector. This shouldn't be a bad thing as I thought the character of Nicholas was a well-developed character. But the Nicholas in the teaser is nothing like the Nicholas we meet in "From Man to Man". I found it hard to reconcile the two into the same character.
It was very much like what Joss Whedon did with the character of Simon from the television show "Firefly" in the movie "Serenity". In "Firefly", Simon is prim and proper. He doesn't like dirt. He doesn't like swearing. And the one time he punched someone, he hurt his hand. In "Serenity", however, Simon is a bad ass. He is a no-nonsense, no-sense of humor, ass-kicking sister-saving badass. It took something away from the story.
This isn't really enough to discourage me from reading "It Began with Ashes" but it is enough to put it further down on my reading list.
All in all I give the short story 4 out of 5 stars.
"From Man to Man" is available from Amazon.