(2009) M. E. W. Curran, Pan Macmillan, £16.99, hrdbk, 469 pp, ISBN 978-0-230-70980-5
Following on from The Secret War I can say that this second book has decidedly more punch. That was my first thought and I am pleased to report I was not disappointed. It was straight into the flames with the first few chapters of this rollicking fantasy with William Saxon and friends battling the evils of the world. To recap, 7 years has passed and more Daemons have been thwarted, and our band has grown so now they fight with vigour and confidence.
Humanity also returns to the author who remembers that his protagonist hero must be not only a warrior but a lover. Showing the life William had had in the village with Adriana makes me believe in the character's desire for right and a justice in the ongoing war, otherwise I might have thought him more machine than man. And fight he must, the war is not over, it never will be, but when a new assignment is presented it is very exciting for all.
This tale moves the war against evil forward, across the lands and seas once again from Europe to Egypt. On the way our travelling army faces the toughest of conditions some beautifully rendered in comedic vein, especially with the brothel chapters: I really felt for those monks, albeit with a smile; how blushingly, bashfully written.
On the harsher side their foes, the Vampyres and Daemons have the desert as an ally since our army must travel a long way and make new friends as they go. Curran inserts diplomacy in his second book that I think the first lacked: I suspect the author rejoices in getting neighbours to help each other and this ethical vein is something I really liked. So 'no', I do not feel it a massive cop-out to suddenly have hundreds of Bedouin turn up in one episode to save the day: for me it worked, it really did - new friendships were made, the Monks had already fought very well and travelled for more that half the book fighting and travelling alone, this was no rescue it was a new life being breathed into the journey. And so they were ready to face a new enemy, the Rassis...
Williams's journey 'on the road' moves away from the thoughts of family in Rome and England. The puzzle of how to find the Hoard when a lot of clues are left literally dead kept me interested. A good balance of battle and puzzle, deception and survival, this book is much less of a role-playing game (as the first appeared) and more a tale of adventure.
The ride has its flaws, like in the first book, The Secret War, Curran adds more magical creatures than he and we can handle, the same is true here. Sadly what he has started he must finish, so with the return of the Dar'uka at the beginning, the loaded question is will they help in the final battle? Oh how I wished this had simply not been brought up. Too many times the question, will they or wont they come to save the day at the 11th hour (with divine undertones) crops up and weakly questioning faith of characters (and the reader). Quite frankly I do not think such emphasis is necessary and arguably they should have been left out completely: if I really believed they were going to turn up at the end and save the day why on Earth would I keep reading past chapter 5? Indeed Captain Saxon, Lieutenant Peruzo and the rest of the company we meet along the way are such interesting and loyal characters and the writer should give us readers more credit.
What I would have liked and what, for my money, the Author should have done, was write another book off the back of 'The Secret war' letting us know how Kieran and the Dar'uka were getting along on their own entirely book worthy adventures. Still, despite flaws this novel was entertaining.
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