Haiganu. The River of Whispers – Marian Coman

Haiganu and its author

Haiganu and its author

It’s been a few weeks since I read the book and I’m still in love with it. I love the glossy gorgeous cover, the off-white page color, the drawings, the cover art, but most of all I love the story. As a fan of horror and fantasy (Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Robin Hobb are among my favorite authors) I often wondered if there was a Romanian author who would take elements from Romanian mythology and/or fairy-tales and use them to tell a magical story. To my pleasant surprise, such an author does indeed exist.

“Haiganu. The River of Whispers” is the first volume in “The Cursed God” trilogy. It’s a story that uses elements from a famous Romanian fairy-tale about Harap Alb (which is also the name of the story) – the son of a king who travels to his uncle’s kingdom to be crowned king. On his way there he falls prey to an evil man who takes his place, swears him to secrecy and has him fulfill some dangerous tasks, one of them being the killing of a deer whose bejeweled skin and especially his head are supposed to hold some of the biggest and never before seen precious stones. Harap Alb manages to overcome all the obstacles with the help of some unusual friends who posses incredible talents that come in handy in time of need. All ends well, as the hero of the tale resumes his rightful place and he lives happily ever after. But that’s the oversimplified version.

Marian Coman, the author

Marian Coman, the author

Haiganu is the name of the hero in this new tale. Proud and defiant, he wants nothing to do with the mortals, spending his days in solitude, away from them. He is one of the Great Ones, a god with a single eye, cursed to wander the earth, never to find rest but to forever be tormented by the voices in his head. Voices of mortals, each with his own predicament, crying, cursing, shouting, all in pain, a never-ending stream of lamentation. Until one day he hears a voice that is different from all the others. It’s the voice of Zourazi, a child with wizard blood in his veins. Suddenly Haiganu has a purpose, to find this child, an orphan taken from his family and forced to serve his master, the cruel Dekibalos. With the help of Moroianu and his spells, Dekibalos is building the Orphans’ Army, comprised entirely of children whose only purpose is to kill and eat the flesh of their enemies. It’s a cruel world, bloody, tormented, on the precipice of change, where griffins are more than just a means of transportation and the secrets of the great wizards not as safe as they once were.

The author combines elements from the story of Harap Alb with bits of Romanian history and to this he adds a dash of horror to create a new world that has all the makings of a great fantasy. This first volume felt a lot like warming up. We get to know the characters, there are a few twists and turns but it feels as if the great mysteries are yet to come. Reading this I was reminded of Robin Hobb’s “The Farseer Trilogy”; the two stories seem to have some things in common – the ability of some of the characters to bond with animals (I particularly loved such a scene that is described with exquisite detail in Haiganu), and the prisoners of war that are captured, transformed into soulless beings and used with the only purpose of destruction.

Gaudeamus International Book Fair

Gaudeamus International Book Fair

I loved the book. I had to re-read the original story of Harap Alb because it’s been so long since my last reading and I’d forgotten some of the details. I’m glad I did because it helped me understand how the author used the original story to forge something new. My only complaint is that I’ll have to wait another year for the next volume to come out. So far it’s only available in Romanian but I’m hoping that one day soon it would be translated so more people can enjoy it. And with it, the story of Harap Alb. It would be useful so see where it all began.
I had the pleasure of meeting the author at a book signing during Gaudeamus International Book Fair last month. We chatted a bit, he signed my copy and I took some photos. It was one of the best days I had this year.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Read in November 2015

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20 Responses to Haiganu. The River of Whispers – Marian Coman

  1. Deb Atwood says:

    My goodness! What a gem you found. I did not know you could read Romanian. You are indeed a person of many talents!

    Glad you had such a lovely day.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Deb,
      Yes, indeed, very well said, this book is a gem. And that day was magical.
      I am Romanian so it would be a little weird if I couldn’t read that. 🙂

  2. Brian Joseph says:

    I love the idea of incorporating folklore into a modern novel. I really like folklore itself.

    I am not familiar with Harap Alb. I just Googled it, and it looks fascinating. I tend to want to read the original before I read a book like this.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Brian,
      I’m the same when it comes to folklore-based stories. I feel that reading the original story first can really help with understanding the new story better.
      I had no idea a summary of Harap Alb was available in English – thanks for commenting on that – after reading it I can say it’s a pretty good description of the Romanian version. When I read about Harap Alb stealing the salad from the bear’s garden, the story of Rapunzel came to mind in an instant. 🙂
      I really hope this gets translated into English.

  3. Vishy says:

    Wonderful review, Delia! Thanks for introducing me to a wonderful new Romanian writer. Looking at the name, I thought the author was a ‘She’. I didn’t know that men were called Marian too. I loved your description of how the book looked like and the pictures of the book. I wish it gets translated into English, and I hope they retain the artwork and cover – the Romanian edition looks so gorgeous! The Gaudeamus International Book Fair looks so wonderful! I will find the story of Harap Alb on the internet and read it soon. I will also look through my edition of Romanian folktales and find out whether it is there.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Vishy,
      In Romania only men are called Marian. Women are called Maria and Mariana. I was actually curious to see if anybody would comment on that. 🙂
      The book is very beautiful, I hope they keep the design and everything as it is if it gets translated. The story appeared originally in a comic magazine – I know you like comics, right? This edition comes with a bookmark too and the hardcover has a poster.
      I’m curious if you find Harap Alb among the stories in your book.

  4. Athira says:

    This trilogy sounds fabulous! I am not very familiar with Romanian history so I will have to look for more books based over there. I agree – it will be wonderful if this trilogy will get translated soon to English.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Athira,
      It is so much better than my description. I’m not very familiar with Romanian fantasy either but I’m glad I discovered this. Will surely let you know if it gets translated.

  5. Oh this sounds wonderful, I do hope it will be translated soon! Looks like you had a wonderful day 🙂
    My knowledge of the culture is food only 😀 My last roomate was from Romania and introduced me to Sakuska!

    • Delia says:

      Hi Bina,
      It is also my hope to see this in English. It was a great day, too bad we only get events like this once a year – or maybe it’s a good thing if I think about the damage it would do to my bank account. 🙂
      I love zacusca! Do you like it? I’ve been buying it ever since I got back to Bucharest.

  6. I loved this review, Delia. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on a lovely day that you have had! I am so happy for you. 🙂

    And, this edition comes with a bookmark, and a poster? Wow. That’s a creative idea.

    After seeing you write so much about ‘The Farseer Trilogy’, I am reminding myself to buy it soon.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Deepika,
      Thank you for the nice words.
      This edition of “Haiganu” comes with a lovely bookmark. The hardback has a poster but alas I’ve outgrown my poster days. I used to have them stuck to my bedroom door with scotch tape when I was a teenager.
      Yes, you must read “The Farseer Trilogy”, it’s amazing. I hope you like big books. 🙂

      • Scotch tape, and posters sound beautiful, Delia. Thank you for sharing your memories. 🙂

        I like big books, and I certainly don’t want to miss ‘The Farseer Trilogy’. 🙂

        • Delia says:

          I still have some magazine covers with my favorite band. Depeche Mode was all the rage among my friends back in the day.

          Looking forward to reading your review, Deepika. I hope you like the trilogy.

  7. Priya says:

    The original fairy tale sounds really cool. I am happy you got to meet a loved author, I have yet to experience that but I’m sure it must have felt awesome. Seeing as I love Gaiman and King too, I’ll be sure to add Robin Hobb to my shelf. 🙂

    • Delia says:

      Hi Priya,
      It was a great experience, meeting the author.
      It’s amazing how one’s perception changes with time. When I was a child I thought it was just a story. Now, reading the fairy-tale I can see new meaning, other interpretations.
      I keep wishing Stephen King would get out more, maybe we’ll both be lucky to see him one day. Wouldn’t that be great?

      I hope you get to read The Farseer Trilogy. Up until I read this trilogy I didn’t know fantasy could be so good on an epic scale. Sure, we have Gaiman, but his books are not as long.

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