(2016) Stephen Donaldson, Gollancz, £12.99, hrdbk, 113pp, ISBN 978-1-473-21449-1
Stephen Donaldson has returned with his first published work since finishing The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series. His new piece of work includes two novellas. The first of these is The King’s Justice and the other Auger's Gambit.
This first novella follows a man dressed in black arriving in a village, who follows in the path of a terrible crime that has been committed. He is the secret servant of the King. The villagers soon find themselves cooperating with the stranger, and it becomes clear that there is more to this stranger than meets the eye. It does cross many genres by having a hint of a mysterious detective novel whilst set in an epic fantasy landscape.
At first, this novella may seem like a small and self-contained story, but upon reading it becomes clear that Donaldson has placed much thought into the mythology and history of this new world. In just over 100 pages, he creates a story that is both dark and upsetting. The mysterious stranger in black also adds a level of secrecy to the story, and it is fun to see the story. It does follow a quite mundane and slow paced tale, but the story slowly reveals signs of magic and a deep complex history that surely should be returned to one day. The other characters throughout the novel only make brief appearances, but the stranger manages to hold the story together.
The brilliance of this novella is the traditional and nostalgic feel of the story. It is very much a small epic fantasy, but the novel is very simple and sticks to the foundational plot points so often located within the fantasy genre. However, this is not a downfall in such a small novella. It enriches the story and moves it along at a steady pace as the answers are slowly given and the magical system is slowly understood. It is a bleak tale, with the central theme being about the darker side of people. It is a simple tale that is an enjoyable quick read for readers both new a familiar with Stephen Donaldson’s work and will be enjoyed by all lovers of the epic fantasy genre. Readers should beware that the story does not have a rich and deep history which has become a popular staple of Donaldson’s novels over the years, but is rather a slicker tale which gives hints of an underlying history, but mainly follows the central story to deliver a quick read.
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