Fiction Reviews

Devil’s Blade

(2020) Mark Alder, Gollancz, £16.99, trdpbk, 373pp, ISBN 978-0-575-12972-6


This is a romp, a romp that may just be the book for you!  However, for my own personal inclinations – which will definitely come out in this review – it is a romp I do not feel I can advocate

The story is based on the early life of Julie D’Aubigny, a famous 17th century French opera singer. Her career is well documented, but her early life before fame in more-or-less unknown, so the author is free to create any back-story he likes, and no one can argue.  So Mark Alder has developed a story to explain where she came from, and how she obtained her musical skills.

A young girl is procured by a group of nobles for an evening of fun – but not that sort of fun. They need a virgin, because they are going to raise the Devil, and need a sacrifice. But things don’t go to plan – her throat is cut, a friend intervenes and is murdered, they raise the devil, but by the time he appears they have fled the scene. A deal is struck – if she manages to kill all 13 of her attackers within a year, her soul will be saved and she will live.  There are complications and rewards – the complication is that each of them need to die having denied God, and the reward is that for each death, she will receive a fencing lesson from the Devil.

And so the romp begins – there are a number of suitors who she meets during her journey, both male and female, the means of death becomes evermore ingenious, and because the Devil will not help her in her task (because that would be a good thing, and we can’t have him doing good) and, indeed, there are any number of things/people he puts in her path to slow her down.

The setting for the novel is aristocratic France, and if only 10% of the attitude of the nobles towards anyone who isn’t from their social strata is true, I probably would have been leading a revolution; but everyone takes it as completely normal.  The other setting is the world of 17th century opera, and the adulation that singers received – Julie’s cut throat is sewn up by the Devil, and her aim, other than revenge, is that her voice will be restored so that she can sing, and sing at the opera.

For me, there is an excess of gratuitous swearing, but that may just be my sheltered upbringing:I cannot remember hearing the word f**k until I was about 17, and as for c**t, well into my 20’s.  Yet here those words are just bandied about.

The sticking point for me, and this may be unlikely to be for you, is the whole concept of forgiveness by God.  In the novel, forgiveness is just given by the mere mouthing of a few words, which mean very little to the one uttering them – a theological ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card.  Forgiveness doesn’t work like that, in the real world outside the novel.  So maybe I should treat it as a fictional plot device and leave it at that.  I just wouldn’t want anyone to get the impression that it’s theological reality.

As I say, it’s probably just me.  If you want a romp, go for it.

Peter Young


[Up: Fiction Reviews Index | SF Author: Website Links | Home Page: Concatenation]

[One Page Futures Short Stories | Recent Site Additions | Most Recent Seasonal Science Fiction News]

[Updated: 21.1.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]