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Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Assassini, book 2

Orbit (2012)

ISBN: 9780316074421

Reviewed by Ben Julien

Spoiler alert!

The Outcast Blade is the second of a trilogy (Fallen Blade being the first book), an alternate history set in late medieval Venice. A fantasy novel, its focus is the city itself, the imagined politics of the ruling Millioni family (scions of Marco the Polo) and its Council of Ten and the Assassini, a secretive brotherhood of agents run by the Duke’s Blade – his spymaster, master assassin and bloody go-to guy.

The lead character is Tycho, described as a fallen angel, of the first race who shun the sunlight and drink blood from their victims to satisfy their hunger and enhance their considerable abilities. Yes, this is a vampire story, though not overtly and Tycho’s genetic heritage isn’t the only focus of the narrative, though the inclusion of other fantasy tropes (werewolves (krieghund) and witches (stregoi)) did jar a bit at first.

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Jesse Bullington

Orbit (2011)

ISBN: 9780316087346

Reviewed by Ben Julien

This is the story of a young servant girl, Awa, who is captured by an ancient necromancer, and is then unwittingly and unhappily apprenticed to him. She learns the dark arts of raising and manipulating the dead and is drawn into the machinations of the necromancer and his bid to continue possessing new bodies.

Awa eventually escapes his clutches and the story shifts to her misadventures in a dark, continental Europe. The other two main protagonists, Niklaus and Monique, are introduced and their combined stories initially focus on questions of how to survive, and to some extent fit in, with Awa, a non-Christian, dark-skinned woman in a superstitious world ruled by the sword and a predatory Church.

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Jennifer Fallon

Rift Runners

Harper Voyager (2011)

ISBN: 9780732290849

Reviewed by Ben Julien

The first of a new series by Jennifer Fallon, I’m sure this novel will please her fans and has enough drama, magic and romance in it to satisfy fantasy fans in general.

The premise is an alternate reality or realities where history’s course has run differently to ours. The alternative universe in which much of the action takes place is one where the Romans were driven from Britain after the Sidhe (pronounced “shee”) or the wild spirits or faeries of Celtic Britain gifted their magic to the druids. Their intention was to create a ready army of magic-wielding defenders to keep the invaders at bay. The druids succeeded and subsequently became a world power following the Roman decline.

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Joe Abercrombie

Gollancz (2011)

ISBN: 978 0 5750 8384 4

Reviewed by Ben Julien

This is a book of dirty, muddy, bloody writing, putting the reader square in the midst of the battles, in the heads of the commanders and in the proverbial with the common soldiers. At times superlative, The Heroes is deftly paced and spiced with existential philosophy and violent psychosis. It is a familiar formula for Abercrombie fans, but the work of a writer growing more competent with each book. The setting of The Heroes sets it apart from his other works – this novel is almost a historical treatise on a famous battle. It is all the more complex for dealing with all sides, all the major protagonists.

In fact, the novel is an endless circular examining and feeling of the battles from a dizzying array of characters’ points-of-view. There are many, many battles, but Abercrombie has effectively portrayed the politicking and manoeuvring of the powerful, and the tedium of the common soldier between the fighting. It’s an impressive feat and one that never had me becoming impatient.

This is an attractive package. A big book, with maps enough to please. Abercrombie has said before on his blog that he isn’t a fan of world maps, but I think he (or his publishers) have made the right choice in this case (albeit that the maps included aren’t of a ‘world’ but of a single location). The background cover art itself the map and shows where the various buildings and terrain are laid out which does help to visual the fighting.

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