(2012) Ian Irvine, Orbit, £9.99, pbk, 618pp. ISBN 978-1-841-49829-4
They say that ‘confession is good for the soul’: well, here is my confession – I did not enjoy this book. That is not to say that it is not a good book, or read, but there were parts which did not quite do it for me (whatever ‘it’ is).
Probably it is my own fault. I had not spotted that it was book 2 in (probably) a trilogy, and I had not read book 1 (Vengeance) – I have bought this now, so that I can at least read the books in sequence. But more likely, it wasn’t the sort of sword & sorcery story I had grown up on – I can remember buying a copy of Fantastic magazine (November ’76 if you’re interested) which carried a classic sword & sorcery cover and a story by Fred Saberhagen. There would have been just as much sword-play and gore and swooning females as in Rebellion, but it seemed to have so much more style. The same applied to the Robert E. Howard novels/short stories that I devoured from then on.
There is a précis of Vengeance, there are maps, there is a list of characters, and there is a glossary of terms used – all of which were good in parts, but sometimes were just confusing, especially the maps. But there also are anachronisms in language (‘You gotta get up now’ – first line!) and items (at one point, a character drinks tea). If you are describing another world, or even this world at another point in time, it’s gotta (sorry, 'got to') feel like another world.
There are, however, some interesting uses of character, particularly taking well-known ‘types’ in fantasy/horror and subverting them to match the story.
+ The ‘anti-vampire’, Tali, who gives (or rather, it is taken from her) her blood to provide healing – some of the description of the forcible bleeding I felt was a bit too nauseating, but the point at which she chooses to give of her life for the sake of her friend/lover is tender.
+ The werewolf (or caisthe), Tobry – a shifter (according to the glossary a ‘vicious, bastard creature’ ) who chooses this life to save his friends.
+ The mummy – Axil Grandys, the original vicious king of the land, who has no feelings (and seemingly never did) and who is brought back to life by the anti-hero, Rix. He who comes encased in ‘skin’ of black opal.
There are a number of other characters/themes which make you think, ‘I know what’s coming next’: the servant girl who is really the hero and is deeply in love with the anti-hero, and who falls-in at the end; the boy who goes missing at the beginning of the book, who I’m pretty sure will become a key character in the last book in the series; the set-piece siege of the impregnable fortress… So it’s a big old romp which I wish I liked, but didn’t.
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