Fiction Reviews

The Dark Lands

(2019/ 2023) Markus Heitz, Jo Fletcher Books, £12.99, trdpbk, x + 500pp, ISBN 978-1-784-29441-0


The great pulp writer Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, also introduced Solomon Kane a sombre man who dedicated his life to battling evil in all its forms.

Now, Markus Heitz brings Solomon Kane's daughter Aenlin to join the young adventuress as she follows in her father's footsteps to battle dark forces, gunpowder, steel and magic - in the Dark Lands!

This is an English translated edition of a 2019 novel by Marcus Heitz, called Die Dunklen Lande, with the translation done by Charlie Homewood, and itís a meaty tome, but Heitz helpfully starts with a Dramatis Personae, consisting of two pages listing important characters be they kings, gods, goddesses, witches, giants, and even horses. This is swiftly followed by a glossary of terms, and a little history lesson from Heitz about the true state of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in 1629. Despite the title, Germany wasnít a nation but an alliance of cities, counties and principalities. Not surprisingly they were great differences between these areas, especially when it came to religion with the formation of the Catholic League which was created to stand against the Protestant Union. The year 1629 finds itself just a third of the way into the period known as the Thirty Years War, and having set the scene, it is on with the fantasy after a quote from John Miltonís Paradise Lost.

The story itself takes place over an eighth month period between March and November 1629, the plot bookended by an Exordium and a Conclusion, and in between there are 19 Capitulums, or chapters, and between those are a range of quotes, a poem about water nymphs, and some song lyrics. War is hell, and the quotes from a variety of sources highlight the grim nature of life in Germany at that time where atrocities were commonplace.

But what about the plot? Well, it is a mix-up of quest and caper with a suitably diverse range of characters made up of mercenaries, a giant, and a fop supporting the two main characters Ė Aenlin Kane, daughter of the late, great Solomon Kane, and her friend, Tahmina, who is a Persian mystic Ė as Aenlin tries to get back the inheritance she is due, but first she is obliged to carry out a task by the solicitors who administer the estate, namely rescuing a group of women falsely accused of witchcraft who are due to be burned at the stake. To do that they have to navigate their way through a war and get behind enemy lines in a country where demons walk the earth, doing what demons do, but as Aenlinís father was a renowned demon fighter, and she is a chip off the old block then those pesky demons shouldnít pose too much of a problem.

In a way they donít, but there are other issues at play here out of Aenlinís control, namely the plot itself. This is very clunky in style, possibly because of the translation. While being clunky it is also overburdened by a lot of historical detail. Heitz clearly knows his stuff about almost every aspect of life and warfare at that time, and he likes to show it. The denseness of style and detail arenít helped by an over abundance of events, and a myriad of magical ďstuffĒ which is introduced layer upon layer yet doesnít seem to have any real firm foundations to them.

My final nail in the coffin would be to add that the male characters read like stereotypical fantasy sidekick, male characters; and the two female leads donít reach the same dizzy heights of being stereotypes as they are underdeveloped and not very convincing. Heitz says in his afterword that he doesnít intend to write a sequel, for which I breathe a sigh of relief, and then goes on to say 'never say never'Ö Now Iím worried.

Ian Hunter


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