(2019) Paul Krueger, Gollancz, £16.99, hrdbk, 517pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22900-6
A soldier with a curse - Tala lost her family to the empress's army and has spent her life avenging them in battle. But the empress's crimes don't haunt her half as much as the crimes Tala has committed against the laws of magic . . . and her own flesh and blood.
A prince with a debt - Jimuro has inherited the ashes of an empire. Now that the revolution has brought down his kingdom, he must depend on Tala to bring him home safe. But it was his army who murdered her family. Now Tala will be his redemption - or his downfall.
A detective with a grudge - Xiulan is an eccentric, pipe-smoking detective who can solve any mystery - but the biggest mystery of all is her true identity. She's a princess in disguise, and she plans to secure her throne by presenting her father with the ultimate prize: the world's most wanted prince.
A thief with a broken heart - Lee is a small-time criminal who lives by only one law: Leave them before they leave you. But when Princess Xiulan asks her to be her partner in crime - and offers her a magical animal companion as a reward - she can't say no, and soon finds she doesn't want to leave the princess behind.
This band of rogues and royals should all be enemies, but they unite for a common purpose: to defeat an unstoppable killer who defies the laws of magic. In this battle, they will forge unexpected bonds of friendship and love that will change their lives - and begin to change the world.
And now for something completely different as they used to say in a well-known comedy TV show. Following on from his urban fantasy Last Call At the Nightshade Lounge, Paul Kruegar has just gone off and invented his own epic, fantasy world in Steel Crow Saga packed with interesting characters, sometimes working together, sometimes working against each other in a slow moving story that then quickly gathers pace.
To be honest, as a reluctant reader of epic tomes, I did baulk at the sight of Kruegarís weighty novel told over 512 pages which are divided into seven parts, forty six chapters told from the viewpoint of one of the major characters, plus a prologue Ė does the maths on his fingers and thatís chapters that are more than ten pages long, jinkies! One thing I do have to complain about is that the cover of this is pretty functional, but boring when compared to other editions that blaze with the light of a blue star that melts into the shape of four animals, or animal spirits which certain people in the novel can bond with, using forbidden, forgotten magical powers . Still, reviewers canít be choosers.
There has been a revolution against a colonising power, there has been a war, and now there is to be a fragile peace if Jimuro the price-in-exile can regain his throne with the assistance of Tala, who helped destroy his empire, and there is unfinished business between the two, but there are others who want the prince for their own ends to advance their own careers.
Drawing inspiration from the cultures of Japan, China, Korea and other Asian nations, Kruegar has created something refreshingly different. Heís taken his time to get his characters just right, with their back stories and all their prejudices against other people from other nations, but these characters are going to have to grow and change as events unfold and challenge what resides in their hearts and heads. Heís thought out his world-building really well with the different nations and their own, unique magic systems Ė and some of the technology will seem very familiar - in a story that has been described as Pokemon meets Avatar: The Last Airbender, but for adults in a tale with action, adventure, romance, witty banter and political intrigue.
My final quibble is that this is a standalone book, although there is plenty of scope for Krueger to return to the world he has created, but if his next book is going to be something completely different it will be interesting to see what he comes up with next. Recommended.
See also Allen's take on the Steel Crow Saga.
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