(2019) D. K. Fields, Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, 439pp, ISBN 978-1-789-54248-6
Cora Gorderheim is a detective working in Fenest, capital of the Union of Realms. It is a tense time, with an election due. Unlike most worlds, the Union decides who is going to run the government by telling stories - the Realm with the most compelling tale wins. And the man who has just ended up dead in an alleyway has had his mouth sown shut, which in this world tells its own story. Who wanted to make sure that his tale remained untold? Can Gorderheim solve the mystery? Or more accurately, ‘mysteries’. There’s a lot going on in this multi-level book.
Widow's Welcome is intended as the first book in a longer series set in the Union of Realms, and I had to admit its appeal is different to much other similar genre fare. Fantasy is a bit heavily laden with warriors and sword maidens, but not this series. This is damp and urban. To me it felt a lot more like books such as Gorky Park or The White Russian where the author uses the central plot device of a murder to explore the nuances of a more complex situation, and more intricate world. And there is clearly a lot to work with here as the background is detailed. To my mind the city resembled the seamier side of Sherlock Holmes' London (there were several sequences that really could have been taken straight out of the recent Guy Ritchie films). As the first book in a new series, this shows a lot of promise and I hope that it continues so we can learn more about other parts of the Union of Realms.
A few comparatively minor qualms. On the negative side, I struggled a little with some of the language. The author has clearly spent time creating his own slang, and seemed determined to use it when there are plenty of normal words which would have done as well: referring to a police surgeon as a 'Stitcher', for example. That didn't help me settle into the book. I also didn’t really warm to Cora, who seemed to have pretty much stepped out of a noir thriller. Yes, she driven, damaged and isolated, but not especially likable. And hand on heart – I always struggle a little when presented with fantasy worlds where the system of government looks impractical. I didn’t end the book with the feeling that this approach to politics would really work.
Having said that, these are pretty minor quibbles around a well told story, and I genuinely look forward to the next.
See also Ian's take on Widow's Welcome.
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