Reviews

Review: PROMISE OF BLOOD (Powder Mage #1), by Brian McClellan

When a few years ago I saw this book mentioned on one of the periodic showcase posts on John Scalzi’s blog, I was immediately intrigued and did not waste any time in seeing for myself what this novel was about. Despite enjoying both the story and the writing, however, I never managed to move forward with the series, rekindling my interest only when a couple of months ago Orbit Books offered me the chance of reading and reviewing the first volume in Brian McClellan’s new series, Sin of Empire.    

On hindsight, I believe I now understand the reasons for my procrastinating, but they have been completely vanquished by this author’s new novel and the fresh enthusiasm for his world engendered both by Sins of Empire and some of the prequel novellas I’ve read since then.  So it was only fitting that I start again with the first book in the Powder Mage series, and I must admit that re-reading Promise of Blood, after getting to know better some characters and their background, was a much more satisfying experience.

This is an unusual world for fantasy, because it’s not based on a medieval-like setting, but rather a period reminiscent of the late 18th/early 19th Century, although it does possess its own forms of magic: at the top of the pyramid stand the Privileged, whose ability in mastering the elements makes them quite powerful – they offer support to the king’s rule and form powerful alliances called ‘cabals’, that are considered nearly invincible.  Then there are the Powder Mages, to whom gunpowder lends great stamina and skills, not least the ability of floating a bullet well past its normal trajectory, and of directing it with accuracy. Last are the Knacked, people with minor abilities that can however turn quite useful, if correctly employed.

As the story in Promise of Blood starts, Field Marshal Tamas brings to fruition the coup he’s been orchestrating with his allies: the present king’s rule brought the realm of Adro to the brink of disaster, with poverty and hunger beleaguering the people, while the forthcoming Accords with neighboring Kez will place Adro under the Kez political and financial thumb.  In one fell swoop, Tamas is able to kill most of the royal cabal of Privileged and to summarily judge and execute the king and the higher ranks of nobility: the use of guillotines for this final stage of the coup is what lends a strong French Revolution flavor to the novel.    Changing a country is however a difficult business and Tamas finds himself battling on several fronts while trying to resurrect his country’s economy, keeping the Kez and their expansionism at bay and thwarting some attempts on his life, the latter pointing at a traitor among his allies.  The Field Marshal therefore employs the services of former inspector Adamat (a man with the knack of eidetic memory) and sends his own son Taniel, a highly skilled powder mage, in pursuit of the last surviving king’s Privileged, while dealing with the problems of running a country and unraveling long-standing mysteries, again mixing mundane matters with magic in a compelling blend.

The background for Promise of Blood is a very interesting one, thanks to the combination of ordinary and supernatural I mentioned above: we have people wielding magic alongside common soldiers and servants, merchants and accountants, and through the various phases of Inspector Adamat’s investigation we have the opportunity of a closer look to Adran society where, for example, one of the major players is a workers’ union (something almost unheard of in the historical period that inspired the novel); or a powerful guild of assassins, the Black Street Barbers known for its silent efficiency, who are allowed to operate unhindered.  One of the elements I most enjoyed was the balance in the abilities afforded by gunpowder: a powder mage can draw great strength and resistance, or improved sight, from consuming it, not to mention the possibility of literally guiding a bullet well past the trajectory imposed by mere ballistics. And yet there are counterweights to this: not only in the fact that weapons are of the flintlock kind, and therefore able to shoot only one bullet at a time, so that a powder mage’s skills cannot be turned into a convenient deus ex machina, but also the use of powder can become addictive, not unlike any other drug.

As far as characters go, Field Marshal Tamas quickly became my favorite: he’s a somewhat hard, uncompromising man, but he also possesses a strong sense of justice and the willingness to make difficult choices for the common good. Having learned more about him and what makes him tick through the novellas I’ve read, it’s easier to understand his anger toward the former ruling class of Adro, although most of the times it’s a coldly calculated anger he knows how to channel, both for himself and the people he wants to lead toward a different future:

The people want blood right now, not words. They’ve wanted it for years. I’ve felt it. You’ve felt it. That’s why we came together to pull Manhouch from his throne.

His son Taniel is more difficult to relate to: both now and on my first read I saw him as something of a whiner, a boy looking for his father’s approval, and inclined to sulk when he doesn’t receive it in sufficient amount. If on one side I understand how difficult it would be to be the son of such a man, and to find oneself walking in such renowned footsteps, on the other I constantly felt the need to slap some sense into Taniel, especially when he pitched himself deeper into his powder addiction to numb the pains of the world, both the real and the merely perceived ones.

The pace of the story is fairly quick, alternating between Inspector Adamat’s investigation, political maneuvering in Adro, the looming Kez invasion and the obscure threat of god Kresimir’s return on the wings of an old prophecy that some Privileged seem determined to bring to fruition: the story flows pretty quickly between these different events and builds to a spectacular climax that however leaves many doors open for future developments.  With such a premise, as I said, it seems strange I did not feel compelled to continue sooner with the series, and I believe now that the main reason is the imbalance in characterization: unlike the first novel of the new series, or the prequel novellas, Promise of Blood does not seem to care much for female characters, and in a world where women can even choose to enroll in the military this does not come across too well.

Let’s examine some of the women who people this novel: Lady Winceslav, one of Tamas’ co-conspirators, is an influential person and the head of the mercenary group The Wings of Adom, and yet she’s easily duped by a young suitor; officer Vlora, Taniel’s fiancée and the central figure in Sins of Empire, causes the break of their engagement when he finds her in bed with another man; Ka-Poel, Taniel’s Fatrastan ally, is a powerful mage and a fearless fighter, but she’s mute; Privileged Julene is the quintessence of the Dark Lady, cruel and power-mad. And so on… I might be wrong, but I see a pattern here, one that might have subliminally influenced my decision to wait in discovering how the story progressed.  Thankfully, I can now see how the author changed this course along the way, and I must admit that reading the new novel before returning to this older trilogy had a very positive impact on my point of view of the overall story, one that promises to lead me on a very interesting path.

This time around I will not wait long before moving forward…

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Novella Review: ROLLING IN THE DEEP, by Mira Grant

Writer Mira Grant – the pen name of UF author Seanan McGuire – deals with horror in many forms, but always without need for the excesses of blood and gore: the fear in her stories comes rather from plunging the reader into the thick of events whose buildup is carefully crafted. Rolling in the Deep is no exception, as is no exception my choice of one of her stories for my posts: it’s by now an open secret that she’s one of my favorite authors…

Mermaids have always been a fascinating subject, beautiful hybrids between woman and fish whose sweet song lured lonely, unwary sailors to their demise, although in more recent times they have been turned into cute creatures of animated movies, while the truth – if there is indeed a glimmer of truth in the legend – could be quite different. As one of the characters in this story says at some point: “We turned monsters into myths, and then we turned them into fairy tales. We dismissed the bad parts.”

Imagine Network is a TV channel dedicated to monster-of-the-week B-movies and older sci-fi classics that launches into a venture destined to diversify their programming with “realistic” documentaries on controversial subjects (the various ghost-hunting shows plaguing current television come immediately to mind…) and for the highly-publicized launch of this new course they sponsor a scientific cruise with the goal of confirming the existence of mermaids.

On board the ship Atargatis convene scientist and TV people for what seems a whimsical search: a few of the former are either looking for scientific confirmation or refutation of the theory, and others to make a name for themselves in their field no matter how outlandish the subject; while the latter seek of course to improve ratings for the network and to reach personal success and visibility.  To insure that footage will show something to captivate the audience with, Imagine Network also enrolls a troupe of “professional mermaids”, women in costume who will provide some interesting film clips should all else fail.

The peculiar narrative choice of Rolling in the Deep comes from the blunt premise that the voyage of the Atargatis ended in mystery-shrouded tragedy, as testified by the quotes from the documentary created by Imagine Network on the crew’s disappearance, using the footage found aboard the empty vessel: evidently, not to be outdone by events, Imagine Network found a way to capitalize on the disaster and to draw a profit out of the expedition’s failure.  So it comes as no surprise to the readers that none of the characters they come to know in the course of the story will make it through, but that hardly matters – in my opinion – because what truly does is the road leading to the catastrophe.

The section of the novella heading toward its horrifying climax is deceptively unexciting: we meet a number of people – scientist and TV cast and staff – and learn a little about them, as we do with the ship’s captain and some of her crewmen. The three groups start their uneasy cohabitation on board the Atargatis as the differences in their personalities and leanings are tested in the enclosed environment of a ship at sea, and on the surface it seems like uninteresting fare, but on hindsight it looks like a plot to lull the reader into a false sense of tedium, so that when the unthinkable happens, when “the clawed, webbed hand (lashes) out of the dark” they are caught by surprise just as much as the characters are.

And what a bloody, disturbing surprise it is…

From that point on, the story goes into a fractured, accelerated sequence of images, not unlike the found footage of some well-known horror movies, offering us swift glimpses of the carnage that happens aboard the Atargatis as the myth choses to move out of the depths where it had been hidden and comes to the surface, swift and merciless and totally efficient in its actions.

Thanks to fellow blogger Tammy, over at Books, Bones and Buffy, I’ve learned there will soon be a follow-up to this novella, and to say I’m quite curious to see where Mira Grant will lead us next would be a massive understatement, indeed.

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

WESTEROS IN MILAN…

As the start of season 7 for Game of Thrones, the TV series based on George R.R. Martin’s saga A Song of Ice and Fire, approaches – with the premiere slated for the evening of July 16th – so does the fans’ excitement to see how the story will move forward, now that the all-out war between the various warring factions is about to begin (although I will admit that I will take it all under advisement, while I wait for the next books to come out, since I’m pretty certain that GRR Martin has some surprises in store for us readers and has kept a few cards close to his chest, without revealing them to the show’s creators…)

Nonetheless, the hype is at its highest levels, and many events are being staged to keep it that way: I recently discovered that one of them has been set up here in Milan in the inner courtyard of the Sforza Castle, a 15th Century fortress located in what is now the heart of the city. Here is a brief video that will give you an idea of the location:

 

A few days ago I learned that a presentation of the world depicted in Martin’s saga and the HBO series would be held on this weekend, culminating in a public showing of the first episode of season 7 at 3 a.m. on Monday, July 17th, at the same time as the USA airing. Thankfully I will not have to observe such an ungodly hour to see the episode, since Sky Italy will be airing it and, as a subscriber, I will be able to record it and watch it at a more humanly convenient time 🙂

I was however curious about the presentation, my curiosity increased by the huge billboards covering the walls of the Duomo subway station I have been seeing all week long on my way to and from work, and announcing that “Winter has come”, or asking if we were “ready for it”, the more impressive one being a scene of the sword duel between Jon Snow and the King of the Others – a very impressive scene, indeed. So this morning, since I was in the area, I decided to see for myself: in truth, it looked more like a display aimed at younger audiences, especially with the big, bronze-like dragon everyone wanted to be photographed with, and the copy of the Iron Throne with a long queue of people waiting for their picture to be taken while sitting on it – and my heart went to the poor guy dressed like a Wildling standing beside the throne and looking fierce: with a 32 C temperature (that makes it close to 90F) and a 35-40% humidity, it must have been hell to stand there in such heavy clothing!

 

 

The best feature was indeed the fountain in front of the main entrance: it has been dressed to look as if part of it is frozen (after all “Winter has come”!) and despite the July mid-morning brightness it looks good.

The light of day might not be the best to observe the presentation, though, and I believe that at night, with some strategically placed illumination to enhance the location and the displays (and to keep away the darkness and the terrors Melisandre is so fond of mentioning) the castle’s courtyard will take on the properly magical atmosphere required by the event. For those fortunate – or bold – enough to brave the wait until 3 a.m. on Monday morning it will certainly be an amazing experience to see the brand new episode surrounded by the ancient walls of the castle.

For the rest of us, especially those waiting with impatience to know the date of issue for The Winds of Winter, the trailer for the new season will have to be enough.

Are you ready? 😀

Reviews

Review: ISLAND OF EXILES (The Ryogan Chronicles #1), by Erica Cameron

It’s practically impossible for me to resist a deep desert setting, not since Frank Herbert’s Dune became one of my favorite books, so when I read the first reviews for Island of Exiles I knew it would not be long before I saw for myself what this story had to offer.

Life on the island of Shiara is hard and unforgiving: set in the middle of a turbulent ocean, the island’s climate alternates between periods of intense, searing heat and seasonal storms that can annihilate everything in their path. The city in which the novel is set is an enclave of relative comfort in such a harsh environment, but requires total dedication from its citizens, whose main goal must be the survival of the tribe, even before that of the individual.

The city’s society is divided into three layers: the nyshin – or warriors/hunters, who provide security and forage for whatever other foodstuffs the island can provide, besides what can be cultivated on the plateau; the ahdo, who are a sort of teachers and administrators; and the yonin, the lowest possible rank: these are people who were unable to manifest any magic ability during the rite of passage into adulthood, and are therefore kept inside the city walls and set on any kind of menial work – there is no overt contempt displayed toward the yonin in this society, but the writing on the wall is quite clear about their station.  At the top of the power pyramid, however, stand the Miriseh, a group of long-lived (or maybe immortal) people who act as protectors to the city’s population, and are regarded as the ultimate source of reverence.

Khya is a nyshin warrior, brave, highly respected and dedicated: she wants to get to the very top and become one day part of the council of advisors to the Miriseh, just as her blood-parents did, and it’s her most fervent hope that her younger brother Yorri might share that honor with her, but so far Yorri has shown no magical ability, and she’s afraid he might end up among the yonin, as happened to his lover Sanii. Training him in secret, she finds the way to unlock Yorri’s magic – a very powerful, very rare kind of magic – and everything seems to move according to her plans when tragedy strikes, and on its aftermath Khya starts making unpleasant discoveries that will turn her world and beliefs upside down, and lead her toward an unexpected path.

The world described by Erica Cameron is a fascinating one: enclosed in a relatively small space, hemmed in by cruel nature, the people of Shiara have managed to create a flourishing society, one that displays many interesting facets, and a few shadows as well.  For example, if on one side we can observe the existence of three sexes (male, female and a neuter called ebet) and a total freedom about the choice of partners, with no distinction between genders, on the other we have a rigid caste system that puts at its lower tier the yonin: the outward reason for keeping them in the city is that they need the protection of the walls, since they have no magic that could shield them from the elements or any enemy they might face. The truth, however, is that the yonin are pariahs, people to whom little value is attached (as witnessed by the lack of mourning when accidents take their life), people who are not deemed worthy of a liaison with the upper strata of society, and are best kept out of the collective sight: they serve in silence, their work required but not acknowledged.  To me, this was the first sign that not everything was as it looked on Shiara, so that once the revelation about long-kept secrets and lies surfaced, I was not overly surprised.

The downside of such a fascinating premise, however, is that there is too much of it: as a reader I felt virtually assaulted by a huge amount of new terms, most of them without explanation, that required my utmost concentration on these details, concentration that was stolen from the story itself.  I’ve often said that I like to work through what I read, that I don’t like to be spoon-fed by excessively enthusiastic authors, but to me Island of Exiles went completely the other way, burdening the narrative with a plethora of terms that proved more distracting than informative, more on the side of telling the readers about the differences in this society, rather than showing them.    In a similar way, the moment in which the truth behind the careful façade is revealed is less of an enlightenment and more of a full stop in the forward momentum: again too much information is given in a rather pedantic way and it takes the wind from the novel’s sails, where a slow accumulation of clues might have worked far better.

Fortunately, the characters’ journey more than compensates for this problem, even though it’s hard at first to connect with the central figure of Khya: she’s so driven, so focused on her goals, that she often dangerously comes close to be an overbearing zealot – her desire to see Yorri excel and join her in the advisors’ inner circle carries her like a bulldozer over her younger brother’s eventual aspirations, never once taking into account that he might want something different.  She loves him deeply, and yet she does not know him, not fully: indeed the discovery of Yorri’s desire to bond with Sanii – thwarted by Sanii’s failure in the rite of passage – comes as a huge surprise, as if Khya considered Yorri’s life an appendage of her own, without needs or drives she has not contemplated.  Only loss will force Khya to look inside herself as she tries to unravel the island’s mysteries, and those observations will lead her to understand the error of her ways, to really grow both as a person and a fictional character: it’s not something you find often in YA-oriented novels, and it finally gives meaning to the coming-of-age journey that tends to be at the center of this kind of story.   In a similar manner, the romantic thread of the narrative is developed in a believable, organic way (and there’s no love triangle, which is always a plus with me…): fellow warrior Tessen could not be farthest from Khya’s interest – they have known each other since childhood, but she resents him because she believes he stole from her the opportunity of advancement in the nyshin ranks. Khya’s wariness gives slowly way to growing trust when Tessen proves time and again his reliability and steadfastness, creating a slow-burn romantic entanglement that does not take over the story proper, but instead offers a nice counterpoint that is never overdone.

Despite a few objections, I rather enjoyed Island of Exiles, and it’s my hope that the “wrinkles” I encountered might be straightened out in the next installments: the story, and its future developments, are indeed worth keeping the faith.

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Short Story Review: MONO NO AWARE, by Ken Liu

 

 

MONO NO AWARE, by Ken Liu

(courtesy of Lightspeed Magazine: click on the link above to read the story)

 

Not for the first time I need to acknowledge that Ken Liu’s writing seems more appealing to me in its shorter form than in full novel size, since my attempt to read his larger work, The Grace of Kings, has so far caused me to shuffle it back in my reading queue – not because I didn’t like it, but because I believe it requires far more attention and involvement than I can give it at present.

Having appreciated The Paper Menagerie, I was curious to sample more of his shorter stories, and this one caught my attention, proving to be even better than my previous encounter with Mr. Liu’s writing – and not just better, but with a higher emotional impact: I’m not ashamed to confess that the ending moved me deeply, even more so because of its restraint, not in spite of it.

In short, what’s left of humanity – slightly more than a thousand individuals – is traveling on a solar-sail-powered ship toward a new home: Earth found itself on the path of a huge asteroid, and is no more. Main character Hiroto alternates details from shipboard life with memories of his childhood at the time in which the Hammer, that’s the name given to the asteroid, was nearing Earth and the evacuation of its people was underway.  There is a sharp dichotomy between the events of the past and Hiroto’s quiet acceptance of what happened, of the tragedy that caused the whole of humanity to be reduced to the present scant handful, and it’s not because of the emotional removal, but thanks to the lucid awareness that to behave otherwise would be useless, that survival depends on the ability to rise above one’s personal needs, to care about “the web of relationships in which we’re enmeshed”, as Hiroto’s father used to advise him.

When a tear in the solar sail threatens to send their ship, the Hope, wildly off-course, it will be Hiroto’s job to step in and make sure that what future still is there for humanity will reach its fruition, and his choices will be determined by the meaning of the phrase that’s this story’s title, a complex concept that can have several meanings, the most important one being that all things in life are temporary, that everything passes: what matters is not so much an individual’s life, but rather “the places we hold in the web of others’ lives”.

Profound, and profoundly touching.

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Review: SOUL OF THE WORLD (Ascension Cycle #1), by David Mealing

I received this novel from Orbit Books, in exchange for an honest review.

Books have a mysterious way of catching my attention, and Soul of the World was no exception: something in the cover kept drawing my eye, and the catchphrase on it – Three Must Fight, Three Must Die, Three Must Rise – added to my curiosity.  What little synopsis was there was also quite intriguing, promising a world on the brink of both war and change, while unrest and social troubles are running rampant.  How could I resist?

The world described here feels almost like an alternate timeline: the colony of New Sarresant has an inescapable New World flavor, although the dominant culture from the continent of origin is French rather than British, and what seems like a mirror of the French Revolution era is also mixed with the seeds of civil war against the Gand southern invaders.  In the northern reaches of the continent dwell primitive tribes not unlike Native Americans, in a land where dangerous predators roam free and are kept away from the colonized lands through a sort of magical barrier that keeps them confined.

Yes, the magic: there are many forms of magic in this world, and although at times they can seem overwhelmingly convoluted, they remain downright fascinating: from the animistic kind of the tribes, whose shamans and Guardians can take the powers from slain beasts and employ them at need, to the elemental magic of the colonists, tied to the leylines and manifesting in paranormal-like powers that can go from the ability to hide oneself from sight to the gift of taking over another’s consciousness over vast distances.

The story unfolds from the perspective of three points of view (again the number three coming to the fore…): young Sarine is an orphan surviving in the poverty-stricken Maw district by selling the sketches of the nobility she draws by observing their fetes unseen; Sarine however hides a secret, that of her invisible companion (or should I say ‘familiar’?) Zi, a creature that seems to enhance her ability to tap the leylines, so that her powers will soon become pivotal in the growing unrest that’s bound to end into all-out war.  Erris D’Arrent is a career military trained in the use of leyline magic and driven by the need to excel in spite of her lowly origins: she will find herself in the position of doing much more than that as the situation escalates and dangers besiege New Sarresant from many sides.  And lastly Arak’Jur, Guardian of the Sinari: a man gifted with deep understanding of his world who finds himself faced with challenges that seem too big, yet never shies away from doing his duty to the people he’s committed to.

This choice of alternating chapters between these three points of view keeps the story flowing at a good pace, despite what looked to me like a slow beginning: I understand now how the author was building the background and the events at the core of the story with a leisurely pace, giving readers the time to acclimate themselves with a world that’s very complex and multi-layered, but still I admit that at first I asked myself several times where all those scattered breadcrumbs were going to lead.  I’m very glad that I persevered though, because at some point those threads coalesced into an organic whole, the story literally taking flight and never slowing down again.

As for the characters, Sarine looked from the start the most interesting one, and the one who was easier to grow attached to: she is both a protagonist and our eye into New Sarresant’s society, so that through her we learn the hows and whys of this world and about the huge chasm between the nobility and the commoners, one that parallels the situation that gave rise to the French Revolution in our real world.

[…] watching the nobles eating, laughing and playing at their games when half the city couldn’t be certain where they’d find tomorrow’s meals. This was supposed to be a land of promise, a land of freedom and purpose – a new World.

Sarine is strong, determined and possesses a reservoir of bravery that comes out in the most unexpected moments, one that never takes into account the possible consequences that might befell her: hers is not the unthinking courage of the foolish, but the strength of the selfless hero, and that’s one of the reasons why she takes so little time to worm her way into our hearts.   

Erris is an equally fascinating character, what with her need to rise through the ranks and distance herself from her humble origins as a form of vindication: because of my recent re-read of Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood, it was easy to draw a parallel between Erris and Field Marshal Tamas, which endeared her to me all the more, particularly when she entertains this kind of thought:

All her career she’d served in an army of lions led by dogs, made to bark and yip for the sake of fools. In the moment she felt no better, but she knew they saw in her a lion. For their sake, for New Sarresant, she could roar, and go into defeat with pride.

Erris’ point of view is however somewhat marred by the abundant use of military tactics – necessary in consideration of her chosen profession, but of little interest to me – and that spoiled a little my appreciation for her journey, but not enough to make me lose interest in it.  The character that took me more time to truly appreciate was that of Arak’Jur: at first he appeared like a good man through and through, and I like to see some darkness in a character’s psychological makeup, so that at first his chapters were those that required some effort to hold my attention.  With the progression of the story, though, I could see how he was tied to the other two main figures and once again the “power of the three” managed to draw me in as soon as the unfolding events reached their peak and Arak’Jur’s true strengths came to the fore.

Strong characters and the increasing pace of the story make this novel a compelling read, one that’s all the more extraordinary since it’s a debut work: rarely I encountered such a level of narrative control and sophistication in a first novel, and if you consider that this is just the introduction to this world, with much more to come in the next installments, you can appreciate the author’s daring and his skills in handling such a complex, multi-layered tapestry.

I’m already looking forward to seeing how this will move forward…

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Novella Review: RAT CATCHER, by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s  October Daye novels are by far my favorite UF series, both for the fascinating juxtaposition of the fae realms with our own world and for the amazing characters moving through both. And if protagonist October is a joy to read as her journey continues through the series, there are some other characters I’ve come to deeply care about, the foremost being Tybalt, King of Cats.  So imagine my delighted surprise when, scanning the stories on offer at LightSpeed Magazine, I came across this one, where Tybalt is the absolute star: the opportunity to learn more about him and his past is not one to be passed by, indeed. Because, you know… TYBALT!   🙂

So here it is:

 

RAT CATCHER, by Seanan McGuire

(click on the link above to read the story)

 

It’s the Year of the Lord 1666 in London, and Rand – the one who will later be known as Tybalt – is summoned by his father, the King of Cats, to attend a convocation at the Fae court of Londinium, to hear some important news. In fact, it will turn out to be a prophecy by the Roane, who have foreseen the burning of the city (the great fire that ravaged London in the September of that year) and urge the fae of Londinium to leave the place, or risk perishing in the flames.    Rand’s father Ainmire, though, is not willing to listen – mostly because he feels that the Court of Cats unattended might undermine his power, a power he holds on to not through wisdom and strength, but with ferocious, stubborn cruelty: as a King of Cats, he rules through fear and intimidation, and does not care about the consequences that might befell his subjects.

This story, besides showing the kind of person Tybalt used to be, helps us understand the kind of King (and person) he is in present times, and how his strength as a King of Cats comes from the respect he earned from his people: this younger version of Tybalt is something of a dreamer, someone who enjoys watching acting troupes perform the works of Shakespeare, someone who feels an affinity for humans that will carry on though the centuries and inform his attitude toward mortals and changelings alike.  One of the best moments of the story is the one where he bids goodbye – in cat form – to those actors, who have somehow adopted him as the theater’s resident feline: there is a depth of feeling in there that says a great deal about how Rand/Tybalt sees his life as a prince in the Court of Cats: “these men, who had never exchanged a word with me and knew nothing of my place or station . . . these men were some of the truest friends I had ever known.”

Another fascinating element is Rand’s growing confidence with the Shadow Roads, the dark, cold spaces between worlds that act as shortcuts for longer distances: in the series, we see Tybalt as a master of these dangerous by-ways, but it was not always so, and here he struggles with his lack of knowledge and resistance, sometimes coming within an inch of his life before reaching a destination, that more often than not is purely random. There is an interesting observation he makes at some point that again says a great deal about the individual he will become: “for the first time, the shadows did not fight me. I had faced them without fear, fought through them to a chosen destination, and now, at last, they conceded my authority”.

This is a beautiful, if cruel, story and one of the best (if not THE best) I’ve read among the corner-filling tales in the October Daye universe: for that alone it’s worth reading, but it takes a special value if you are a Tybalt fan – and in my experience, every reader of this series is a Tybalt fan….

 

My Rating: