Time to start catching up on this supposedly monthly feature …Yes, once again, we have a cover which tries to draw us in by having someone standing on the cover. Because that’s exciting (Cover art by Christian McGrath, all rights with current holder). Now, as to the story …
The Story: In an alt.Europe, Prince Jalan is the grandson of the Red Queen, and very far from the throne. Which isn’t too bad for him as he’s more interested in wenching, gaming and avoiding anything that might constitute a risk to his neck or comfort. When he’s almost caught in a destructive spell cast by an invisible wizard, he goes on the run with a revenge-obsessed Norseman. Slowly Jalan learns that there’s a big conspiracy going on involving the Dead King and that like it or not, he’s caught up in it.
What I Learned: As I’ve noticed in past entries, less exposition usually works better for me than more. I have no idea what the exact divergence point is for this version of Europe and while I’d have liked to know, I’m okay with not. Certainly I’d prefer it to the endless exposition I see so often.
Haters Got to Hate, Cowards Got to er, Cow: The book opens with Jalan telling us “I’m a liar and a cheat and a coward but I will never, ever let a friend down.Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play or bravery.” That’s a good premise for a protagonist, but I never found him outrageous enough to measure up to the quote. He certainly wenches plenty, but that’s hardly a distinctive trait. I think Lawrence may be setting up for him to rise to heroism in the next book, but even as someone who only thinks he’s a wastrel he doesn’t convince me.
First Person Really Can be Tricky: I don’t find first-person as objectionable or problematic as some people do, but this book is a good example of how it can sink a story. Jalan’s voice just doesn’t work for me. He’s not regretting his bent to cowardice and selfishness, he’s not rationalizing it, and he’s not embracing it the way (for example), George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman does. Instead, Jalan just sort of snarks about himself, as if he sees himself the way a reader might. It’s distancing and very unconvincing.
Nothing I learned really applies to anything I’m working on now, but it’s still instructive.