Long ago, Ramor, an evil god was imprisoned in a conch by the other gods, who have since left the world of Akbar, leaving the conch behind. Mara, a powerful sorceress finds out the spell keeping him in the conch expires shortly and must be renewed to keep the world safe. She sends her daughter, Roxanna (Pélisse in the original French) to recruit Bragon for a quest. Bragon, an old knight who spends time in his estate telling tales of his glory days to children. He is reluctant, but hints that Roxanna may be his daughter and the chance to see Mara again convince him to go on the quest.
And what a quest: not only must they go get the conch Ramor is imprisoned in and bring it to Mara, but they also must find the Bird of Time, or more precisely, its egg, which will allow Mara to complete the spell before Ramor escapes. All this must be done within nine days.
As is traditional for every quest, they accumulate companions, the first one, is Roxanna’s pet, the Furry, a blue creature with some strange powers and whom she refers to as her “little master” (people who live with cats will think they understand why, but as it turns out, they will be wrong) second comes a masked figure simply known as the unknown knight—it is obvious to the reader, but not Bragon and Roxanna, that it is Touret, one of Bragon’s stablehands—who only follows them because of his infatuation with Roxanna (something she is quite willing to take advantage of). The reader is quick to see, when his true motivations and cowardice gets mistaken for nobility and courage, that he will provide some comic relief, yet there is more to him than that.
Eventually, they are also shadowed by Bulrog, a mercenary, former student of Bragon, whose employers they dispatched during their quest. He is looking for revenge, but may find something else. Finally, taunting them along the way with bad rhyme and riddles, is Fol, spirit of the river Dol which crosses all the marches Akbar is divided into.
Like many others, The Quest For The Time-Bird is a quest to save the world from an ancient evil, but it’s also very different: it’s probably the shortest high fantasy quest every written: the action takes place over nine days, this means no endless months of traveling, no weeks of waiting for armies to gather and very little time spent relaxing in some sanctuary before heading out again or rotting in a prison before escaping. Another difference is that there is no young “hero to be” with a destiny to fulfill. Bragon is old, at the start of the book he sees his deeds as over and done with, though there is still some unfinished business in his life. The unknown knight is there for all the wrong reasons, (as is Bulrog). Roxanna might be it, but there is a lot of uncertainty about her—Bragon keeps trying to find out who her father really is, while the unknown knight never knows where he stands with her. It’s also interesting to note that for most of the quest, two of the main characters, Bulrog and the unknown knight, have masks hiding their faces. Identity is important in this story and while we know things about some characters, what we don’t know about them is just as important.
In addition to identity, the theme of how past and future are linked together in a cycle that repeats itself is tightly woven in the story: Bragon has an encounter with his old master while his former student Bulrog looks on, this will deeply affect Bulrog’s choices later on as he contemplates his relationship with his old master. The last book ends with an old man telling the story of the quest to a group of children (much like Bragon was doing at the very beginning). The old man is revealed to be the unknown knight. It’s hinted he’s accomplished much in his life since his first adventure and he has (more or less) adjusted to his retirement. Even the mythology behind the Bird of Time—the way it is killed and reborn alternatively as a bird of light and a bird of darkness everyday, neatly ties into this.
The Quest For The Time-Bird was the first major work by writer Serge Le Tendre (who later on wrote Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche (a noir inspired detective story), Le Cycle de Taï Dor (fantasy), and Chinaman (a western starring a Chinese immigrant) and artist Régis Loisel (who wrote and illustrated an interesting take on Peter Pan, as well as working for Disney on Atlantis and Mulan). For both of them, it was an auspicious start for their careers. They’ve kept busy over the years and are now working on a prequel series, telling us about Bragon’s and Mara’s youth and some of the events hinted at in the first series. So far three books are out in French. Here’s hoping they get translated soon.
René Walling is a fan of SF, animation and comics, this has led him to co-chair Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon, be involved with fps magazine for more than a decade, and start Nanopress, a Canadian small press. He looks forward to living on Mars, where he would benefit from having more than 24 hours in a day.