(2016) Stephen Donaldson, Gollancz, £12.99, hrdbk, 184pp, .ISBN 978-1-473-21447-7
The Augurís Gambit is a new novella by Stephen Donaldson, which has been released simultaneously with The Kings Justice. Whilst The Kingís Justice was a more traditional epic fantasy story, The Augurís Gambit takes a slightly different tone. This story centres around the idea of the augur, which is so common in fantasy stories, and turns it on its head to create a new and refreshing fantasy read.
The novella follows the story of Gordian, who is a reader of entrails. His latest readings all seem to point towards the downfall of his home country, Indemnie. The loyalty he holds for the queen leads him on a journey to save his homeland. However, her loyalty and motivations are questionable when her actions with her barons becomes suspicious as she works towards an internal war in her country.
As this novel is a first person account, it makes for easy quick reading. It allows the reader to understand the characters motives and actions and allows the story to progress at a fast pace. At times throughout the novel, especially in the first half, it can seem like some of the interactions that character interactions are just to give the back-story, and can seem quite rushed. However, that is likely to be expected from a novella. It seems at times this just an experimental story that Donaldson has undertaken to clear his mind of his previous lengthy work.
Although the first half of the novel may seem like a tedious trip into world building, the second half of the novel really delivers on both action, political intrigue and the development of key characters. Although this does make the novella a more enjoyable read, the slow burn that is felt through the first half really slows down the progress of the novella. It can seem like a mysterious story, with characters intentions hidden away. The shortness of the novella makes these characters slightly less interesting as the reader is not given enough time to work out their true motives. It seems that Donaldson has packed in a lot of story into a small amount of pages, and whilst it is an entertaining read, it does not reach the epic heights that some fans will be expecting from Donaldson.
Overall, the novella does deliver several key elements that are common in epic fantasy, whilst also allowing several twists in the story that allow for it to feel like an original tale. However, the slow build up can result in a tedious story. Stephen Donaldson is now working on a new fantasy series after these novellas, which will hopefully bring his storytelling ability back to its full potential. Until then, fans can enjoy this novella, but might just feel that they are a bit let down with its tightly woven story. A fun an enjoyable novel but which is perhaps slightly too ambitious for its page length.
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