Before you read this review any further you should be aware of two things. I am acquainted with the author and would consider her a friend and the book is not currently easily available in the US.
With those caveats stated, I really enjoyed the novel. It highlights something that I didn’t know was missing in modern fantasy fiction. A sense of fun.
Our heroes are a pair of mercenaries, worldly thief Wydrin and disgraced former knight Sebastian, who are hired by the revenge-fuelled nobleman Lord Frith to guide him through a labyrinth which promises power at the centre. What initially seems like a quick way to make some coin goes wrong and soon the three have awakened something which threatens the entire world.
As the book starts it comes across in the same vein as a classic pulp story similar to Conan author Robert E. Howard. The tone is one of a generally light-hearted romp and since we start in a mysterious labyrinth it has a feel of a transcript of someone else playing D&D. Soon however we enter some dark and genuinely disturbing areas that Howard would never have touched and would never have got away with in the heyday of the pulp magazines. If the idea of torture disturbs you then perhaps this is not the book for you.
Throughout the book there are very modern ideas mixed with very old ideas. The story has a modern attitude to homosexuality and one nation in this world seems to have been taking lessons from Karl Marx. At the same time the religious life of the world has an animistic feel to it which gives a mythological tone. The world building is excellent and highlights another thing which I didn’t know was wrong with modern fantasy fiction. This book does not have a giant map taking up the first few pages, yet it doesn’t matter. As a reader you are immersed in this world and can see clearly in your imagination the geography and culture of the setting.
There is so much invention on display here. One type of creature which shows up at the beginning I have honestly never seen in a fantasy novel, and while most of the ideas and concepts which make up this world have been done before, they have rarely been used like this and rarely have been put front and centre in the story. Using self-mutilation or words written on the body as a source of power has never seemed so fresh. It’s also nice to have a world where alchemy lives side-by-side with demons. In the 50 plus years major fantasy novels have been published there is nothing new to write, but Jen Williams comes close to providing a new spin on old ideas.Read More
While the world is fresh, t...