In The Least Envied, one easily recognizes the first leg of what Joseph Campbell described as “The Hero’s Journey”. The Hero's Journey is a deeply satisfying narrative structure found in all sorts of drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development. To begin the journey, a hero first receives a Call To Adventure, which the hero refuses, of course. Fortunately, a magical guide comes to the hero's aid and helps the hero Cross the First Threshold, into dangerous realms where the hero enters The Belly of the Whale, which separates them from the known world, and where the hero will undergo a metamorphosis.
We all know and love the structure because the adventures the hero faces will not only be challenging and exciting, but will illuminate some concept and enrich our understanding of the world, and ourselves.
The plot structure is the only aspect of The Least Envied that was predictable. The characters, dialogue, actions, and ambiance are fresh and intriguing. Sean DeLauder begins his novel with "So this was the fabled West, gritty and mean." But this is not the US West—it is the West of some strange world, with strange steel-boned creatures and giant monsters that stomp through Dirtburg, a dusty town with characters that had me hooting and cursing, all at once.
DeLauder writes with an unique style that I enjoyed from Speaker for the Trees. His voice is fresh and interesting, but this novel is not for fast reading, and certainly not for skimming. So much is unexpected that nearly each and every word has to be dissected and savored. The attention is worth the effort because the images are quite vivid and wonderful.
Many themes are explored during this hero's adventure—the nature of heroism, for one, and fate, among others. There is an undercurrent of philosophy here, but without preachiness or pretension, more like Lord of the Rings in some respects, yet thoroughly modern and gritty in others.
Now that you find yourself primed and ready for this adventure, I must admit that I was one of Sean's First Readers, lucky enough to possess the manuscript before publication. Be patient, for he'll have the edited version out sometime soon—and then all of us can wait for Part II together.