(2019) Tom Lloyd, Gollancz, £16.99, hrdbk, 440pp, ISNB 978-1-473-22461-1
This is the third book in the fantasy ‘God Fragments’ series by Oxford-based English writer Tom Lloyd, following the adventures of a group of mercenaries called the Cards.
You don’t need to have read either of the earlier books to enjoy this one, though there are some passing references to previous plotlines and the narrative does flow into an overall story arc. On reading, you will quickly pick up that the plot is entirely secondary to the blokey mercenary banter – beer, bawdiness and bad jokes are the order of the day, interspersed with alcohol fuelled fighting.
The plot itself is boilerplate mediaeval fantasy. The two previous novels introduce us to war veteran Lynx, forced to join up with mercenaries and heading off on fresh adventures with his new drinking buddies facing up to dark magic .The first novel (Stranger of Tempest) sees them chasing after a kidnapped girl, who turns out to me more than she seems – female night mage called Sitian, who gets the mercenaries into all sorts of trouble as angry religious fanatics (the Knights Charnel) want her back so she can help them create cartridges for ‘mage guns’ from ‘god fragments’ (hence the series title). The story (through the follow up, Princess of Blood) ends up underground, in labyrinths, searching for relics. The key character in this one is Toil, both a princess and an assassin, and she’s still around by book three, bankrolling their latest mission, which should be straightforward local gang management but which ends up being anything but…
This time around the Cards visit the unsettling Mage Islands and face down Teshen, the Knight of Stars. The islands are also surrounded by giant deadly serpents – tsyarn – and filled with rival mage guilds, and since treading diplomatically isn’t the Mercenary Deck’s style they seem to annoy most of the locals and also wake something dangerous beneath the islands.
Epic ending. Quirky characters. Great world-building. Lots of action. All great fun, but don’t expect a novel you can take too seriously.
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