(2014) Mark Charan Newton, Macmillan, £18.99 / Can$32.99, hrdbk, 430pp, ISBN 978-0-230-76684-6
Having reviewed the previous volume in this series (Drakenfeld), I was delighted to have the opportunity to take a look at next part of the story of Lucan Drakenfeld, Officer of the Sun Chamber. And yet some of my concerns about the earlier volume are carried forward to this.
Only a little time has passed since the previous adventure, and Lucan and Leana (his companion/bodyguard, but definitely not his partner) are moved to another nation within the Vispasian Royal Union, Koton. They are sent to investigate the disappearance of Bishop Than Valin, but when they arrive, some of the body of the priest has been discovered. The mystery now becomes – where is the rest of him? – and, why was he killed?
Helping them in their quest is Sulma Tan, second secretary to the queen (who despite having to organise a national census, as well as the Koton Games, seems to be able to provide them with every type of logistical help they request) and Nambu, the teenage daughter of the queen (ostensibly so that she receives their protect from attack, but I think the mother just wanted rid of a sullen teenager).
And here one of my concerns arises: just as the earlier novel was a locked room murder mystery, dressed up as a fantasy novel, this one turns into a serial killer hunt, dressed up as a fantasy novel. There is very little that you would need to remove for it to cease to be a fantasy.As well, there is the McGuffin, beloved of Alfred Hitchcock, which is a plot device often with little explanation. Here it is a mysterious gemstone, with seemingly magical properties (it is able to heal/restore) and which everyone is searching for.
And then there is child exploitation and sacrifice, taking place on an island which does not appear on any maps.
Another of my concerns is the title, 'Retribution' – it does not lend itself to anything other than a book about … retribution. And so all the time you are reading you have in the back of your mind, 'So, when why has the author written a book of 430 pages, when I know that it’s going to end up about … retribution?'
Having said all that, one of the great strengths of the book is the characterisation of the women. Apart from Lucan, all the main characters are female, and come across as rounded personalities. Thankfully, we have long left behind the ‘beautiful-but-dim assistant to the gallant-and-brilliant scientist’ stories, but still in most fantasy fiction the women appear as plot devices, not real women. In particular, we gain a whole lot more of the back-story of Leana, which helps to explain some of the detail in the first book.
I would recommend this series to others, but on the level of a detective novel set in a fantasy realm, rather than a fantasy novel with a detective element.
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