My search for a good mystery apparently continues and this is one book I’ve had my eye on for some time. The back cover text seemed to promise a locked room mystery wrapped up in a fantasy setting (complete with blurb comparing it to Game of Thrones, although I don’t put much stock in blurbs now).
I really need to stop being seduced by the back cover text.
Lucan Drakenfeld is an Officer of the Sun Chamber, a powerful organization dedicated to maintaining and enforcing the laws which govern the Vispasian Royal Union. Following his father’s death, he is recalled to the city of Tryum to make arrangements for his funeral. However, when the king’s sister is found brutally murdered in a locked temple, he quickly finds himself questioning shady senators and dodging assassins in his quest to find the killer, but, unbeknownst to him, his search for the truth could jeopardize the stability of the already fragile union between the nations.
First, something good: it was nice to see a main character with a disability (Drakenfeld has seizures, though the cause is uncertain) and Leana, Drakenfeld’s black bodyguard/assistant/confidante/resident badass looks good on paper. It’s nice to see a dude/lady pair where the lady is the muscle and the dude doesn’t get in on the action for the most part.
Unfortunately, while the characters look good on paper, the actual execution is lackluster. The writing is threadbare, and Drakenfeld has this very annoying habit of stating the obvious. For instance, stating that a senator has a low opinion of women when said senator just finished expressing his dislike for female senators in addition to saying a woman deserved to die because of her “immoral” lifestyle.This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to fiction in general. At times, the descriptive parts are just plain awkward, like when Drakenfeld describes a
stripper dancer as “moving her arms through the air as if she was swimming deep underwater” which is probably the most unsexy sexy dance I’ve ever read about. The dialogue is pretty ridiculous in general, or at least in need of a good editor. And although I said that Leana’s character sounds good on paper, her background is still incredibly white saviour-y and gross. Another thing that bothered me about the characters was the way the author seems to play up the Roman-ness of the setting only to have his main character be a thoroughly modern man. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having modern characters in a setting that uses say, Medieval technology (I do it all the time) but that doesn’t mean you should go around claiming that your work is historical fiction (not that this book actually goes that far). I can’t help but feel as if Lucan is out of place in his own world, not really out of place in the sense that he is different from other people, but out of place as in “belongs in another story entirely”.
The actual mystery is kind of eh, probably because I had a good idea who the perp was about halfway through the book. No doubt due in no small part to Drakenfeld repeating the same few facts about the case at least twice every chapter. The actual mystery itself is a classic locked room mystery, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but like most things about this book, the execution leaves something to be desired, and despite this being in the fantasy section, there’s nothing really that fantastical about it. It’s closet to Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword mannerpunk fantasy than a magic and wizards sort of deal. In fact Lucan even dismisses the rumors that the murder is the work of ghosts because, again, there is a Rational Explanation for Everything. There is one kind of supernatural element that shows up out of nowhere and doesn’t really do anything to advance the plot, but for the most part there’s no actual magic in sight. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I love The Privilege of the Sword, but it strikes me as a wasted opportunity.
In terms of representation, as mentioned Lucan has seizures, and references to his skin colour describe it as “brown”, Leana is black. Queer representation amounts to a character in the first chapter remarking about how he wants to pick up “studs” at a brothel, the victim apparently sleeping with other women, a possible relationship between the king and a male actor, and Lucan constantly being asked if he prefers men when he states that he has no interest in being with women (he is straight he is just not interested) so….not great.
The long and short of it is that this book, like so many other books, has some great ideas but just shit execution all around. Please don’t be seduced by the back cover text, it tells a way more exciting story than the actual book.