(2010) Matthew Sturges, Pyr, US$16, trdpbk, 421pp, ISBN 978-1-616-14202-5
The Elf forces of the Seelie Lands, ruled by Queen Titania, are currently in a state of uncertainty over the plans of the Unseelie, under the command of Mab. They know that the Unseelie have access to a magical weapon that can devastate cities and armies. So the Office of Shadow is reformed. This is the name for the covert operations people, there for espionage and dirty tricks. Under a former operative, a trio are recruited. Sliverdun, a former war hero and nobleman. Ironfoot, an army sergeant turned professor. Sela, an empath of such power that she has had to be confined for most of her life. They are to undermine Mabís rule and to get the details of the weapon before the Unseelie get the change to use it in an invasion.
Admittedly, the prospect of another novel set in the world of faerie, may not sound very promising at first. However there is a tradition of stories where elves are untrustworthy, devious and concerned with royal and political manoeuvring. This novel falls into this category. The Office of Shadows is established as something necessary, but not to be proud of. It is a sequel to an earlier book Midwinter, but you do not have to have read it, to enjoy this story.
While it is not radically reworking the idea of the elf, the novel does find its own take on them. The idea of iron as something that repels and pains elves is a relevant part of the plot. There are different types of faith within the societies, that are not treated the same. Some familiar locations or devices appear, but Sturges handles them well enough to justify their inclusion. There are rethought as part of the worlds that have been created.
The spying elements of the narrative are also variations on familiar elements, given a rethink through the setting. The research team, the secret police and the training course appear, but they are given different uses. In one case, this does lead to an interesting surprise twist.
The characters are given enough detail and background to make them interesting. There is the attitude of Sliverdun to the faith he does not talk about. Ironfootís career in the army is covered. Even Mab, the designated villain, gives herself reasoning for what she is doing, which does not make her any less of a threat.
Overall, I found this to be an entertaining fantasy/spy novel, with good characters and a world that felt like a new spin on the idea of elves. I would welcome another novel in this series.
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