A while back I was sent a review copy (Disclosure: At no cost to myself.) of The Settlers of Catan by Rebecca Gable (translated into English by Lee Chadeayne). To be honest, this review should have gone up already, but for some reason I thought it was coming out next week. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know how I got that idea. My apologies to the kind folks at Wunderkind PR.
The book is based on an ingenious strategy board game called, duh, The Settlers of Catan created by Klaus Teuber. The game sets itself apart from other strategy board games by encouraging cooperation. Winning isn’t achieved by defeating the other players, but by working with them to grow your settlement.
A raid on the coastal village of Elasund, followed by a particularly harsh winter, pushes the Elasunders to face some hard facts. Their village can’t support them all. The rocky fields and its poor soil can’t supply enough grain, nor the sea enough fish to feed them year round. If they face another winter as hard as this one, many will not survive. After seeking the wisdom of their gods, they decide to search for a new home.
I was a bit concerned that there would be references to the board game that I wouldn’t get, since I haven’t had a chance to play. There may be references to the board game, but I never felt like I lacked any knowledge while reading. You don’t need to be a fan of the game to enjoy the book, and you will enjoy the book.
There are a fair number of characters, but the book focuses on the choices and fortunes of a handful available, much like the TV series LOST. I thought this was a great way of handling what has to be a fairly large group of people.
Candamir and Osmund, foster brothers and close friends, are the main players. The pair, along with members of their respective households, set out with the other settlers to find a new home. These characters change quite a bit over the course of the book. Their decisions, and the motivations behind them, seemed very realistic. You could see the paths they were taking in life, and where those paths could have changed.
A large chunk of the book is devoted to the hard winter following a raid on the village of Elasund. Far more than I was expecting. I’m glad the story was structured this way. We get to see the characters in their native environment, and get to know them pretty well, before they find their new home. Giving us that background lets us see how the journey, and their new lives in Catan change each man. These changes really drive the book and make the characters seem real.
I only had 2 complaints about the book, but since the first was just a nit-picky problem with one instance of word choice, I’ll skip that one. The biggest problem I had with the story, is that there isn’t more of it. I’d love to see a series of books continue where this one left off.
I loved The Settlers of Catan, it’s a great fantasy book. Elesund and the long voyage to Catan would have been a great book in and of itself. Rich description and realistic hardships combined with characters you get to know and care about make this one a winner.
Once the settlers reach Catan this story gets really good. As each character rebuilds their life along with the new village, conflicts spring up like weeds. New circumstances and old animosities make The Settlers of Catan a pleasure to read.
If there are any more books about Catan, and I hope there are, I can’t wait for the translations to be done.
I highly recommend this book.